If anyone has ever wondered if Phil Jackson still had the chops to coach a team to an NBA championship, maybe after the Lakers’ loss today to the Trailblazers at the Rose Garden in Portland they’ll appreciate the Zen Master a bit more.
Don’t get me wrong, I like Kurt Rambis, but today it was painfully obvious Kurt is no Phil. Not yet anyway.
Before I get to the negative, I must point out there were things I really liked about Kurt’s coaching today. For instance, I admired his confidence in newbie Shannon Brown. And I think it took some courage to stand up to Kobe Bryant and bench him that long in the first half when Kobe was hampered with 2 early (and questionable) fouls.
But there were some things Kurt Rambis failed to do that I believe Phil Jackson would have done, had he been in the coach’s (elevated) chair. Like what? Well, like….
(1) Adjust to the officiating –
Ultimately the Lakers were called for 31 fouls as opposed to the 19 fouls called on the Blazers.
The funny thing was, the Blazers were a much more physical team than the Lakers. In fact, the Blazers physicality seemed to be modeled after the Celtics.
But it should have been apparent to Rambis and the Lakers early on how the game was going to be officiated when, with 2:03 left in the first quarter, the Lakers had been called for 8 fouls, and the Blazers just 2.
So what was the Lakers’ team strategy to adjust?
Whine at the refs.
Rambis should have seen that in the first quarter, the fouls were not being drawn by Blazer bigs, but it was the Blazer “quicks” (Brandon Roy, and even Nicolas Batum) that were getting fouled. Even when Laker bigs were being called for fouls it was because of Blazer guards (e.g. Lamar Odom fouling Steve Blake with 3:41 left in the 1st quarter). In short, Blazer dribble penetration got Blazers to the free throw line and Lakers to the bench.
Rambis should have made two adjustments, the first being to tell the players to quit whining.
Here’s what happens when a team whines about officiating, especially early in the game.
(a) The refs get their pride hurt and tend to want to punish the whiners with further calls, or at the very least to not give them any breaks.
(b) The players slip into a victim mentality, and victims by definition do not feel like they are in control of their own destiny. You literally lose power when you complain. In sports, we call the ability to play through adversity “mental toughness” and the Lakers supposedly were taught this lesson by the Celtics in last year’s NBA Finals.
The second adjustment Rambis should have made with the Lakers in the first quarter with regards to the foul disparity is to have the Lakers back off the Blazer guards and force them to be jump shooters. Brandon Roy was 8 of 18 from the field (44 percent), but he made all 6 of the free throws the Lakers gave him (100 percent). Similarly, LaMarcus Aldridge shot 33 percent from the field and 100 percent from the free throw line, and Batum scored as much from the charity stripe as he did everywhere else on the floor.
More specifically, here are the shooting percentages of the Blazers on their jump shots:
Aldridge: 2 of 8 (25 percent)
Blake: 6 of 9 (66.6 percent)
Fernadez: 3 of 7 (42.8 percent)
Roy: 6 of 13 (46 percent)
Prizbilla: 0 of 2 (zero percent)
Oden: 0 of 1 (zero percent)
Outlaw: 2 of 8 (25 percent)
Batum: 1 of 3 (33 percent)
Rodriguez: 1 of 3 (33 percent)
Instead of adjusting, the Lakers overplayed the perimeter and made the lightening quick players drive, draw fouls, get to the line and put key Lakers on the bench in foul trouble.
I’d rather live with the Blazers shooting 20 of 52 on jumpers for 38 percent, than give them 37 free throws! Not to mention benching players such as Kobe Bryant because of foul trouble.
By the way, the Blazers played a zone defense to force the Lakers to be jump shooters, and they were. Kobe shot 19 jumpers and attempted only 5 layups. Even 7 foot Pau Gasol shot more jumpers than layups!
At any rate, 27 of the Blazers points came from the free throw line… that’s more than the Blazers scored in 3 of their 4 quarters! Rambis did nothing to stop the bleeding.
(2) Player Rotations –
What’s the sense in having two 7-footers in the starting line up if you aren’t going to ever play them together during the game?
Rambis barely played Gasol and Bynum on the floor together which is dumb for a few reasons. First, the Lakers were out rebounded by the Blazers. Second, that combination would have given the Blazers fits and fouls. Third, the Lakers would have had more shot attempts from the paint. And fourth, isn’t the idea right now to get Bynum re-integrated in the team? How do you do that when you don’t put both 7-footers on the floor together and get everyone used to it?
Adding in “team rebounds” (rebounds a team grabbed that can’t be credited to an individual player), the Blazers out rebounded the Lakers, the number 1 rebounding team in the league this game. Having a rebounding advantage is an important part of the Lakers’ success this year. Given that the Lakers needed rebounds, Josh Powell should not have had a DNP – coaches decision, and have the coach decide to play Luke Walton big minutes.Luke Walton did NOTHING to justify all that playing time. He was 1 of 6 (17 percent) from the floor, 0 of 2 from the 3 point arc, had 2 turn overs and shot just 50 percent from the free throw line before he fouled out with 6 fouls. There was no need for Walton to play that much, other than to let the announcers reminisce about his dad’s days in Portland.
Instead, Lamar Odom should have played small forward with Gasol at power forward and Bynum at center, erasing the Lakers rebounding deficit and moving shot attempts to the paint. Also, the Lakers have enjoyed considerable success putting Kobe at small forward. Also, if the Lakers meet the Blazers in the playoffs, I would definitely try Kobe at the point. Blake would be all but helpless against Bryant’s size, quickness and tenacity, and Blake guarding Bryant would be like Hannah Montana guarding Michael Jordan.
At any rate, while the Lakers may be the number 1 overall rebounding team in the NBA, the are number 2 in offensive rebounds. The Blazers are number 1, and Kurt Rambis should have coached and rotated players in a way that shows he was aware of that.
(3) Time outs –
That was the first time in the Phil Jackson era I remember the Lakers not having enough time outs in the 4th quarter to move the ball to half court for a short clock. Usually, Phil is guilty of not using time outs enough and letting his players work through difficulty.
(4) Late Game Management –
This is related to the time outs, but the Lakers looked COMPLETELY lost late in the game. Pau Gasol even looked like he didn’t want the ball — all the Lakers did. It was as if the strategy was: We’ve got Kobe, I’m staying the !@#$ out of his way. Kobe has his moments, but they don’t usually come if he is playing 5 on 1.
(5) Defensive A.D.D.
Take away the points from the free throw line caused by the Lakers over defending the jump shot, and the Lakers actually had a good defensive night… for 3/4 of the game. The third quarter the Lakers were -8, giving the Blazers 32 points for the quarter.
There’s more but it’s late and I’m tired and you get the idea.
Had the Lakers made the adjustment to keep the Blazers from driving, they probably would have won. Had the Lakers played more logical rotations, that could have brought them a victory. In fact, any one of these adjustments could have carried the day, and all of them would have assured a Laker victory.
It is more than a little bit likely that the Blazers’ hold over the Lakers in Portland would have ended today had Phil been up to the trip.
Get well soon, coach.