Lakers Look to the Paint at Miami

A key element of L.A.’s offensive game plan against Miami in advance of Thursday evening’s game on TNT is to get the ball inside to Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol and let the seven footers go to work against the likes of Erick Dampier, Zydrunas Ilgauskus and Chris Bosh. Defensively, it’s about maintaining the post-All-Star-break level centered around Bynum’s paint presence that has forced all but two of the eight opponents to shoot under 40 percent while predominantly hoisting jump shots.

That, of course, ain’t breaking news.

“You have to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the team you’re playing against, but we as a team always try to establish our inside game against whoever,” said Gasol prior to Wednesday’s practice. “Hopefully we’ll try to do that tomorrow, because it’s something that should work in our favor and something we didn’t do (against Miami) on Christmas.”

Part of the reason L.A. failed to well-use its size in the 96-80 X-Mas loss is that Bynum had just returned from injury, and played only 17 minutes off the bench, scoring six points with five rebounds.

L.A. now has a much different Bynum.

The 23-year-old big man has been the defensive key in the Lakers’ 8-0 streak out of the break, grabbing an average of 12.1 boards (50 in the last three games) and 3.0 blocks in nearly 30 minutes per game while rotating effectively on the weak side and closing down the paint. On offense, he’s been less aggressive, content to move the ball along if he doesn’t have an easy shot while allowing Gasol or Kobe Bryant to initiate the offense. Bynum could be a primary beneficiary of ball movement on Thursday as he was in L.A.’s Tuesday win in Atlanta while making 8-of-10 field goals for 16 points, but his focus remains on defense.

“I think it’s a very mature thing for Andrew to understand,” said Gasol. “Just like when I got to this team, you have to understand, where can you contribute the most, what can you do to be the biggest contributor. What do we need out of a player the most?

“Andrew in the last few games has (focused) on rebounding, blocking shots and finishing at the rim, and if he does all of those things really well, it’s a huge plus for us.”

Offensively, L.A. is looking to move the ball as crisply as it has since the break against an aggressive Heat defense that currently ranks sixth in points against and second in opponent’s field goal percentage. As has long been customary for former Lakers coach and current Heat big boss Pat Riley, the Heat bigs show hard on screen and rolls or just trap the ball handler, a tactic they call “Blitz,” according to the team’s scouting report at Lakers Courtside Connection.

The Heat trapped Kobe Bryant aggressively in the Christmas game, and the Lakers didn’t take advantage of all the holes that were open in the defense by simply moving the ball. One way to do so is for the man setting the screen to slip to the basket with a cut, another is for the ball handler to split the double team with the dribble. But more than anything else, the Lakers just want to move the ball to the open man, and try to get the basketball inside for the kind of easy scoring opportunities their length can produce with proper execution.

Miami has lost a season-high five consecutive games, but to the Lakers, that only means they’re going to be all the more desperate for a win. As such, L.A. wants to stick to the blueprint, and win with execution.

“When we strap up and play D, it helps our offense move the basketball,” said Bynum. “When we move the basketball, everyone is going to get touches, everyone’s going to get involved in the game, and then it’s tough to beat us.”