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Game Preview: Blazers vs. Lakers – 1/25/17

The Quest to Halt the Blazer’s 10-game Winning Streak Against the Lakers

By: Austin Isaacsohn

The Lakers will ride into the Moda Center Wednesday to face the Trail Blazers: a team allowing the fourth-most points per game in the league, who haven’t had an All-Star in three years, and losers of four of their last five. Yet L.A. will assuredly play the underdog for one main reason — Damian Lillard.

The point guard has absolutely shredded L.A. his entire career. Over the last three seasons, he’s averaged over 27 points per game against the purple and gold — way up from his career average of 21.9 — and has shot over 41% from deep — up from his 36.7% career mark. LA’s clearest path to victory therefore revolves around shutting down Lillard, and conversely, using his disadvantages on defense.

Someone, Say Something

Why it Worked: The shot occurs at the three-point arch, but it was action in the paint that freed up the shooter. As soon as Lou Williams goes over the high Plumlee screen (which the Lakers do because there’s just no way Mozgov can keep up with a guard on the switch), Plumlee plunges into the paint, pulling Mozgov — who still has his eyes on Evan Turner — with him. Plumlee does a good job of running away from the man guarding him, which forces Russell to pick him up, and Mozgov doesn’t see the screen from Lillard, causing even more confusion down low.

How to Adjust: Mozgov could have switched and chased Lillard out to the perimeter to get crossed up something nasty, which is what the Lakers wanted to avoid in the first place (not to mention leaving Russell on a center). Mozgov should have recovered quicker to Plumlee after the screen and let Russell get the hell out of the paint. There’s no communication inside, and all of a sudden Lillard is at the top of the arch with the ball and no one around him. Swish.

Eliminate Lillard’s Head Start

Why it Worked: The Blazers know that LA isn’t switching here, so they run a very high pick, well above the three-point line. Plumlee makes great contact with Clarkson, who was probably supposed to ice, and Randle finds himself flat-footed and guarding someone who is not only much faster than him, but now also has a running start. Randle’s teammates also didn’t do much to help their power forward. Nick Young was likely told to not help too hard off of Allen Crabbe, as most NBA teams (including the Lakers) don’t help off of 3-point shooters when they’re one pass away. Ingram’s in terrible weak side help position, but he can’t have one foot in the paint, as that’s essentially what the refs are looking for on the Defensive 3 Seconds call. He’s supposed to “toe tap” into the paint, getting in & out of there before they call the 3 second violation.

How to Adjust: There’s no need for Clarkson to fight over a screen 40 feet away from the basket. This gives Lillard a head of steam & it’s impossible to stay in front of a guard like him when that happens. Randle doesn’t square up particularly well, and gets turned sideways. This is mostly due to the head of steam, but it’s something he struggles with. Had a switch been called out by anyone, Randle could have hedged harder on Lillard, increasing his chances of not getting driven by or shot over — Dame’s best two attacks.

There are ways to solve these issues. Communication is obviously key, but setting a specific game plan against Lillard that involves fighting over his screens whenever possible to chase him off the three-point line (just not 40 feet away), and hard hedging (if forced to switch) to limit his penetration and shooting would behoove LA.

A Little Too Small-Ball

Lillard is not without weaknesses as a player — weaknesses that can be exploited by size. Lillard is only 6’3, and his partner CJ McCollum is 6’4, making them considerably shorter than the Lakers usual backcourt pairing, not to mention they are both subpar defenders. And because D’Angelo’s recent knee injury will keep him out of the game, Brandon Ingram running point will increase that size advantage exponentially. Ingram opens a ton of opportunities all over the court, and can shoot over most guards, not to mention undersized ones.

There isn’t much a smaller guard can do when faced with this length in the post — not to mention out at the three-point line. McCollum gets a great contest below against James Harden, but the two inches or so between the players makes a huge difference when it comes to release/contest point.

Ingram will also help a lot on this end. While lineups that feature him at point flounder offensively, and he can struggle to keep up with waterbug-type guards, his length poses numerous threats to spot-up shooters — which will come in handy against the Blazers, who shoots the 8th-most three pointers in the NBA.

While the Trail Blazers are likely to scheme to avoid a dreaded Ingram-Lillard or Ingram-McCollum matchup, when those situations inevitably arise, the rookie must be ready. That also means that Jordan Clarkson and Lou Williams will see a lot of time against Portland’s two best players, and should both exploit that pairing by attacking relentlessly on offense — thus making Lillard and McCollum work harder on defense and become that much more fatigued on offense.

Notes: The Blazers allow the third-highest three-point field goal percentage in the entire league, at 38.2%, so LA’s shooters should have opportunity to get hot. Portland is significantly better at home (0.9 Net Rtg) than on the road (-5.2 Net Rtg). Expect a lot of poor defense on both sides, as the Lakers (110.5) and the Blazers (108.9) are in the bottom-5 in the league in Defensive Rating.

Austin IsaacsohnAs well as contributing as a writer at LFR, Austin also writes for The Daily Californian, where he covers Cal’s men’s basketball team. He’s a Laker fan who’s been living in Warrior’s Nation the last few years, which has only strengthened his Laker pride.

Game Preview: Mavericks vs. Lakers – 1/22/17

 

Deng & Nance Jr. Ready to Return Against Dallas

The last time these two teams played it was arguably the Lakers worst loss of the season, as the Mavericks exploited the Lakers poor high pick and roll defense time and time again in the second half. Fortunately, Luol Deng and Larry Nance Jr. have been cleared to play on Sunday, and Nance Jr.’s mobility and athleticism can help stifle Dallas’ PnR success. The Lakers will also need to avoid unnecessary switching that creates defensive mismatches and find a way to attack the 2-3 Zone, which has confounded the Lakers in their two losses against the Mavericks. Let’s take a look at a few examples from last game where the Lakers need to adjust in order to get their 17th win of the season.

Communication Breakdown

Near the end of the second quarter in their last matchup, Dallas ran high ball screens with great effect and as a result, Deron Williams had 11 assists, 8 of which stemmed from pick and roll variations.

Why it Worked: Deron Williams does a nice job pushing the ball up the court, and forcing Los Angeles’s on its heels. Jordan Clarkson is playing too high, even going over the screen despite being 30+ feet from the basket. Even so, Julius Randle compounds the problem by exerting little to no effort and playing too far off the screen, allowing Williams to accelerate, thus taking away Clarkson’s ability to recover. Randle remains in no man’s land, allowing an easy bounce pass to Dwight Powell. Lou Williams is also in no man’s land, playing too far out of the paint to tag Powell, giving him a clear runway to the hoop.

How to Adjust: Dallas demolished Los Angeles in the second half in large part to running simple high ball screens. Plays like this explain the criticism of Randle that he isn’t as engaged on the defensive end as he should be. He needs to be more aware when calling out the screen to alert Clarkson and exert more effort by getting in a defensive stance and shuffling his feet to cut off Deron Williams. Clarkson needs to show better defensive awareness by not going over a screen 30+ feet away from the goal, while Lou Williams need to be positioned with one foot in the lane to cut off Powell’s path to the basket. Any time you give up a dunk in a half-court set, something has gone seriously wrong.

Switching it Up

The prevailing theme in both disappointing losses was the porous defense against ball screens. In their last matchup, the Mavericks also ran a high number of 1-3 screens using Barnes to isolate and attack the switches the Lakers made.

Why it Worked: In the moments before the video begins, the Mavericks get the switch they want with Harrison Barnes being guarded by Russell. Afterwards, the ball gets swung around to the other side of the court to allow Barnes to get better positioning on Russell. Deng anticipates what is about to take place, but it too late in coming over to double. Once the ball gets swung back around, Seth Curry passes over Russell to Barnes, and at 6’8, Barnes can shoot over Russell and hit the fade away jumper without disruption.

How to Adjust: The Lakers would be best served by blitzing to force the ball handler to look elsewhere, using their length to take away passes in case that Barnes decides to slip the screen. If a switch is made, the Lakers should make a hard double and force Barnes to pass out, or take a much more difficult shot. This could lead to blown rotations, but the Lakers could ill afford to let Barnes get in a rhythm early by taking easy jumpers over smaller defenders.

In the Zone

The Mavericks run more zone defense (particularly 2-3 zone) than any other team in the league. Zone defenses aren’t very popular in the NBA, but it has flummoxed the Lakers in their past two appearances.

Why it Worked: This brief play encapsulates how the Lakers were unable to figure out how to attack the Dallas zone. The Lakers’ set doesn’t free up any shooters or create separation, so Clarkson is forced to hoist a contested 3 with the shot clock running down.

How to Adjust:  The Lakers should spread the court with a 1-guard front, and get the ball into the high post as much as possible. It is imperative though that whoever is in the high post can collapse the defense and pass out to shooters. If the Lakers are able to get the ball into Randle or Ingram’s hands in the high post and their shooters are able to hit open shots, it would force Dallas to return to man to man.

Notes: The Mavericks have a -4.7 Net Rating this season, but have improved since the start of the new year (-1.9). The Lakers (48%) and the Mavericks (47.2%) are the two worst teams in the league in Opponent Field Goal percentage. Dallas also gives up the highest Opponent 3 point percentage (40.2), which is partially due to them frequently running Zone defense. Each team will try to dictate tempo in their favor, as the Lakers play at the 6th fastest pace (100.41), while Dallas runs the slowest pace of any team in the league (93.29).

Michael Taylor (@LFRMBT)is LFR’s 1st round draft pick. Much like Luke Walton with Brandon Ingram, we think that the best thing for Michael’s development is a lot of hands-on experience, producing Game Previews, Post-Game Reports, and various other articles for us.

Game Preview: Pacers vs Lakers – 1/20/17

Lakers Look to Avenge Early-Season Loss Against Indiana

By: Michael Taylor

The Lakers’ woeful defense will attempt to contain Paul George, Jeff Teague, and young stud Myles Turner after another rough loss against Denver. The last time these two teams played, Los Angeles had the lead late, but Paul George shot the lights out, scoring all 12 of his 4th quarter points in the final 3:58 of play (the final 12 points for Indiana). If Luol Deng misses the game, there isn’t much that the Lakers can do to stop that from happening again. What they can do is, focus on containing Turner and George off screens and take advantage of Indiana’s inability to contest three pointers consistently.

Myles Turner in the Pick & Pop

Here’s a play that the Pacers like to use either at the start of the game, or the start of the 2nd half. Turner is a proficient shooter for someone 6’11, making him difficult to guard particularly for Mozgov and Zubac, who struggle to close out on three-point shooters.

Why it Worked: Indiana starts in horns with two bigs at the elbow, the two wings in the corners, and the point at the top. Teague passes the ball to Young, and cuts to set a screen on Glenn Robinson III’s man free throw line extended. This pick and cut is designed as a distraction to open Teague to get the ball back on a handoff. This leaves Emmanuel Mudiay stuck behind the traffic of bodies as Teague returns to retrieve the ball. Robinson III cuts through to George’s original spot, as Young rolls to the opposite block. This action clears out the entire weak side of the court, leading to Turner being wide open off a pick-and-pop with Teague.

How to Adjust: Once Teague gives the ball up and cuts to set the screen, whoever is guarding Teague (presumably D’Angelo Russell), needs to recognize that the screen Teague sets is designed to rid himself of his defender. Russell can choose to jump Teague and take away his path to return to the ball, however that leaves him susceptible to a back cut. As Teague comes back to retrieve the ball Thaddeus Young, the defender guarding Young could jump in front of Teague’s path and pressure Young to disrupt the flow of the play. As Teague comes off the Turner screen, the Lakers will need to hedge hard and retreat, or switch onto Turner accordingly to take away an open jump shot. If Los Angeles decides to ‘ice’ pick and rolls particularly in situations where Turner is the screener, they will need to be extremely careful as this defensive coverage is susceptible to stretch bigs. However, in any scenario whoever is defending Turner should close out hard, since 86% of his shots are catch and shoot, thus making it highly unlikely that Turner would attack such a close out.

George Coming Off Screens

Over 35% of George’s scoring possessions involve him with the ball in pick-and-roll (18.3%), or coming off off-ball screens (17.2%). The play below is an example of him in the pick-and-roll and how is scoring proficiency creates opportunities for others.

Why it Worked: Indiana runs a simple pick-and-roll with George and Turner to the strong side, with no teammate inside the three-point line. Despite having a poor shooting night (6-17), it’s easy to see how much the New Orleans defense respects George. Solomon Hill hesitates to fight over, and the hedge leads Turner to slip the screen. Terrance Jones cannot leave George because Hill hasn’t recovered — forcing Buddy Hield to tag Turner — leaving his man wide open for a corner three.

How to Adjust: At 6’9 George is much bigger than the average wing, so whoever is guarding him off-ball will need to be physical and fight over screens to deter him from his intended path, forcing him to exert more energy than he’d like to get the ball. The Lakers will have to live with contesting jump shots from George, even if he gets hot, in favor of taking away higher percentage looks. In pick-and-rolls, verbal callouts need to be concise and switches or hedges need to be efficient, or else George will pick Los Angeles apart. Off-ball defenders will need to remain disciplined stance-wise to inevitably help collapse or close out to outside shooters. While stopping George is difficult, making things harder on him will put stress on others to create and knock Indiana out of rhythm.

Making Open 3’s

Indiana’s defense is respectable, but suffer because they give up the most open threes (6 ft. +) in the league at 14.2 a game. Indiana struggles in contesting threes in both transition and in the half court. It will be imperative for Los Angeles to take advantage of this, despite being one of the worst shooting teams on uncontested 3PA at 35.7%. Below is an example of the Pacersf giving up an uncontested three in transition to Garrett Temple.

Why it Worked: Rudy Gay passes the ball up the floor to Darren Collison, and immediately fires a pass to Temple in the corner for an open three. Indiana defenders often hustle back to the paint in transition, leaving shooters open along the sideline. Monta Ellis takes a poor angle, squaring up horizontal with Collison instead of closing towards the baseline, which would have made the pass much harder to make as well as funneling Collison to the heart of Indiana’s defense. Compiling Ellis’s mistake, Indiana failed to realize where Temple was, with the closest viable defender in the paint having his back turned away from the ball.

How to Adjust: This game is an opportunity for Julius Randle to get into transition and rack up some assist by utilizing the Kickback action for Nick Young and company. Laker wings need to bust up the court and be ready for spot up opportunities. In the half court, dribble penetration can cause Indiana’s defense to overreact or miss rotations, leaving shooters open around the floor. The entire defense is susceptible to ball watching and poor defensive stance, which hampers their ability to close out and contest shots. This could be a chance for Young and Russell to snap out of the shooting funks they’ve been in over the recent stretch. Well, at least they’ll get open shots.

Notes: Momentum belongs to Indiana, as their offense has caught fire over the past seven games, posting an OFF RTG of 115.0 — 3rd only to San Antonio and Denver, while shooting 41.2% from 3. Jeff Teague seems to have found a rhythm posting 17.3 PPG, 10 APG, 5 RPG, with a TS% of 79.8 over the same span. Meanwhile, Los Angeles has backslid into a five-game losing streak, with a nightmarish 118.1 DEF RTG. Despite having a breakout game against Denver, Zubac may be used sparingly because of Myles Turner’s ability to spread the floor.

Michael Taylor (@LFRMBT) is LFR’s 1st round draft pick. Much like Luke Walton with Brandon Ingram, we think that the best thing for Michael’s development is a lot of hands-on experience, producing Game Previews, Post-Game Reports, and various other articles for us.

Game Preview: Nuggets vs. Lakers – 1/17/17

 

The Denver Nuggets will be a nice measuring stick for the Lakers.

Denver also boasts an intriguing collection of young talent in Emmanuel Mudiay, Gary Harris, Jamal Murray, and Nikola Jokic. They’re 2nd in the NBA in rebounding and average 15.2 Second Chance PPG, so the Lakers will need a strong collective effort to keep Denver off the glass. The Lakers should do their best to limit Nikola Jokic’s passing angles and attack Denver’s guards in the pick and roll.

Jokic Facilitating From the Top of the Key

 

Denver’s best passer isn’t Emmanuel Mudiay – it’s Nikola Jokic, who is second on the team with a 23.9 AST%. The Nuggets take advantage of Jokic’s savvy passing by running a high number of Iverson sets. Watch Gary Harris start out at the bottom of the screen — he’s running an Iverson cut where he cuts across the court, parallel to the free throw line.

Why it Worked: The play begins with Mudiay at the top, followed by a stagger screen by Jokic and Chandler. As Harris makes the Iverson cut, Jokic gets the ball at the three-point line and Danilo Gallinari moves from the weak side to fill Harris’s original spot, clearing out space for Harris to cut unimpeded to the basket. Harris then curls backdoor around the 2nd screen by Chandler and Jokic throws a perfect pass for an easy alley oop. Continue Reading