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Western Conference Semifinals – Game Five

It is May 21, 2012 and the (3) Los Angeles Lakers have returned to Chesapeake Energy Arena in the state capital and largest city in the state of Oklahoma to battle the (2) Oklahoma City Thunder. The Lakers suffered another tough ‘come-from-ahead’ loss in game four and several people have started the blame game.

After game two, the target of blame or Laker fans angst was Steve Blake, now that blame has shifted to Pau Gasol. Despite the fact that there is a lot of blame to go around; however, to be quite honest, the Lakers deficiencies that we are witnessing now have been there all season.

The Lakers have displayed an inability to get balanced scoring, consistent scoring off the bench, knock down perimeter shots as well as not being able to hold a lead. The real problem stems from the changes that the Lakers made as well as attempted to make before the start of this short truncated season.

The failed Chris Paul trade; managements’ decision to hire Mike Brown over Brian Shaw, ditching the triangle offense, the loss of Lamar Odom & Shannon Brown, and coach Mike Brown not developing the younger players. In Coach Brown’s defense, it is highly questionable if he had enough time to develop said young players. In addition to the fact that whoever followed a legend like Phil Jackson was destined to struggle.

The Lakers have a huge hill to climb, teams up 3-1 in a best-of-seven series go on to win 96.2% of the time (200-8 all-time). In the Kobe Bryant era, the Lakers are 0-4 when down 3-1 (1997 Jazz, 2004 Pistons, 2007 Suns and 2008 Celtics).

It is evident that Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant are no longer on the same page. The reasons for the issues or lack of cohesiveness are due to the above-mentioned changes. Kobe has played in the triangle offense for most of his career, when Gasol arrived February 1, 2008, his high basketball I.Q. and skill level allowed for the two to gel quickly and play at a high level.

Things have changed with the departure of the Triangle offense, gone are the opportunities for Pau to carve up a defense as the anchor of the offense with him in the low post. It is rare to see pick-and-roll plays between Kobe & Pau, when it does occur more often that not it is the action preceding a lob pass to Andrew Bynum at the front of the rim.

The emergence of Andrew Bynum has pushed Pau further away from the basket as more of a facilitator and third option offensively shooting jump shots as oppose to attacking the basket. The addition of Ramon Sessions as the primary ball-handler has also limited Pau’s touches. There is no need to use Gasol as a scapegoat if the Lakers fail to pull out a much-needed win tonight. The blame has to land at the doorstep of Mike Brown, for not fully utilizing Pau’s talents.

The Lakers have to play with a lot of energy, focus and match the intensity of the Thunder. L.A. has to play with a sense of urgency, passion that displays that they want it more than OKC.  The Lakers have to defend, do a solid job against the pick-and-roll play, the guards have to fight over the screen with the knowledge that more than one screen  will be set to free the ball handler.

It is imperative that the Lakers stop the dribble penetration of the guards, box out their men, control the tempo, get back in transition, defend, control the boards, and protect the paint and contest shots.

Lakers: R. Sessions, K. Bryant, M. Peace, P. Gasol, A. Bynum
Thunder:
R. Westbrook, T. Sefolosha, K. Durant, S. Ibaka, K. Perkins  

Tip-off: 6:30 pm pst

Television

  • Los Angeles: TNT
  • Oklahoma City: TNT

Radio

  • Los Angeles: 710 ESPN (John Ireland & Mychal Thompson)
  • Oklahoma City: 640 AM & 98.1 FM (Matt Pinto)

Injuries

Lakers:

  • Matt Barnes (Sprained Right Ankle) Probable
  • Devin Ebanks (Middle & Ring Finger Contusions, Left Hand) Probable

      Thunder:

  • Eric Maynor (Torn Right ACL) Out