The Next Two Days…

Phil Jackson - TeamWhat exactly is Phil Jackson hoping to accomplish with his team heading into Sunday’s first round playoff matchup with the Utah Jazz?

Let’s ask him:

This is an intense period. It’s very much like football would be when you have a week or two weeks to prepare. There’s a scout team, there’s on court activity that replicates what Utah does even though we don’t have the same personnel, it’s the same actions … We hone up our execution offensively. I try to give the heavy-minute guys a few days off so they really get fresh legs – that’s important. Then we start working on end-game situations, and on significant things that would cut down opportunities for the other team (like turnovers) and increase our awareness in the offensive end, especially on side outs and half court, or halftime and quarter-ending sequences.

More accurately, Lakers radio voice Spero Dedes asked him at yesterday’s Lakers Town Hall meeting, which went out on a live video stream from Lakers.com (you can watch by clicking HERE).

With Mitch Kupchak to his left, Jackson went on to identify three things on which L.A. will focus when it comes to Utah:

A) Stopping Mehmet Okur, particularly from the perimeter
B) Containing the penetration of Deron Williams
C) Keeping the Jazz off the free throw line.

At Friday’s practice (CLICK HERE to watch), Jackson acknowledging that finding Okur is definitely an area of focus for the defense, but said that he feels confident in the ability of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum to track Okur to the three-point line. On Thursday, he expanded on each of the three keys:

One of the interesting things is that we ended the season with Utah being our last opponent, and the one key to their team that’s the X-factor is Mehmet Okur, who was not at that game because of a hamstring. His stat last year was that if he gets 15 points, they win, basically. If he gets less, they don’t win. That’s kind of a significant factor about how they play. We wanted Andrew (Bynum) and Pau (Gasol) to have that mixed responsibility about who was going to cover Okur in the situation where he trails down the floor – he’s their leading three-point shooter and he’s a 7-footer. But we did see Deron Williams busting down the middle of the floor and getting to the basket … Utah leads the league in layups and assists, and that says something about them, so those are big issues. The other issue that we saw in this ball game was that Utah got to the free throw line 29 times in the first half and 47 times in the game – you cannot allow a team to have that many free throws in a ball game. It’s going to change the outcome of how you play because it’s going to generate energy off the free throw line. Those are things we’ll try to correct leading up to the game.

Kupchak also weighed in, suggesting that while the basketball ops office is focused primarily on preparing for the 2009 NBA Draft to take place in late June, he is also on hand to assist the coaching staff when it comes to dealing with the league.

“He’ll come in after a ball game and say, ‘Did you see anything out there that you thought was inordinate that I need to draw attention to the league from,’” explained Jackson. “Because Mitch becomes the liaison between our team and the league as far as officiating, he’s constantly checking in with us.”

In just two days more days, the theories will be tested in reality.

You can follow our extensive playoff coverage at our Playoff Central page, featuring a full scouting report on the first round series with Utah.