Monthly Archive for May, 2012

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Paint Protection Paramount

A chat with any one of LAL’s coaches throughout its ongoing Round 1 matchup with Denver quickly renders the phrase “transition defense.”

There’s no question that transition D has been a key in the series LAL currently lead 3-2, but the Lakers lost Game 5 102-99 for a different reason: lack of paint protection.

The Nuggets scored 58 of their 102 points in the paint, despite getting only 19 fast break points, meaning Denver repeatedly got to or near the rim despite LAL most often being back on defense, if with some notable exceptions (see: Kenneth Faried layups).

LAL blocked five shots (three by Pau Gasol), but the deep rim protection simply wasn’t there. This in stark contrast to Game 1, for example, when the Lakers swatted 15 shots towards a 15-point win, led by Andrew Bynum’s all-time-playoff-high tying 10 blocks. It’s not a coincidence that in that game, the Nuggets scored only 44 points in the paint to LAL’s 64.

Andre Miller, JaVale McGee and Arron Afflalo may have put a tent up in the Los Angeles paint in Game 5.

“I thought (Denver) came out, they hit first and they continued to hit throughout the course of game,” said Mike Brown. “I thought they were more physical than us … our paint protection on the defense end of the floor is not good right now.”

In LAL’s film room, Bynum may take the lion’s share of the blame, as the discrepancy in not so much his actual blocks but the amount of shots he contested appears quite large from where it could be when he’s at his defensive best (i.e. Game 1). He’s admittedly been frustrated with how difficult it’s been to get the basketball with any space on offense as Denver commits two defenders his way immediately upon the catch, but the Lakers don’t want that to affect his performance on the other end.

The last two times Bynum’s paint defense was notably discussed came at Golden State (March 27) and vs. Oklahoma City (April 22), both resulting in his being benched during crunch time. In a glass half full sense, Bynum’s response to that poor effort against OKC was the Game 1 triple-double against Denver. He wasn’t involved much offensively due to constant double and triple teams, yet made a major impact defensively.

Even with that said, much of Wednesday’s conversation revolved around Bynum’s post-practice comments in which he said that closing out games can be “easy,” which Nuggets coach George Karl ran a mile with prior to Game 4. Bynum’s central point was that if you jump on a team facing elimination early in the game, they can lose motivation … which has actually been true, in a sense, for the Lakers.

LAL had gone 12-1 in close out games since acquiring Pau Gasol, so Bynum was speaking from experience, which goes in contrast to Karl’s 22-24 record as a coach in such close out opportunities (thus his postgame disagreement with Bynum, where he said: “It’s the hardest thing in the world to win the fourth game”).

Kobe Bryant agreed with Bynum (“close out games can be easy sometimes,” in his words), with both conceding that this particular one against Denver obviously was not. Regardless, is bulletin board material really necessary for a team facing elimination?

Bryant wasn’t so sure.

“Did it pump them up? Probably,” he said. “Were they going to come out with that kind of energy anyway? Probably. We didn’t execute. They obviously played harder than we did. So it’s a lesson to learn.”

No matter what, LAL’s fate will be pretty closely associated with how well, or how poorly, Bynum protects the paint.

The next test comes on Thursday night in Denver.

LAL – DEN: Game 5 Postgame #’s

We broke down some of the more intriguing numbers from LAL’s 102-99 Game 5 loss to Denver:

Fourth quarter three-pointers hit by Kobe Bryant, all in a four-plus minute stretch, to bring L.A. from down 13 at the 4:45 mark to down two at the 59 second mark. Despite four more chances to tie the game, however, the Lakers couldn’t get over the hump, with Bryant’s final three (and one from Ramon Sessions) coming off the rim in the final 12 seconds.

Offensive rebounds for an extremely effective JaVale McGee, who put back most of his boards with dunks towards 21 points with 14 rebounds, plus two blocks. He really hurt the Lakers throughout the evening, outplaying Andrew Bynum (16 points, 11 boards, one block).

Assists for both Denver point guards, Andre Miller and Ty Lawson, who repeatedly got into L.A.’s paint.

Points for Pau Gasol, who took only 11 shots, making four, and had just one assist (his teammates didn’t help him out much by missing a number of open looks he created).

LAL’s deficit going into the fourth quarter, which proved just enough for Denver to stem the tide of a rapid comeback.

Points for Andre Miller, including 10 in the fourth quarter and six in the final two minutes, for the 36-year-old native of Los Angeles. Miller countered two late Bryant triples with buckets on the other end that kept L.A. from getting over the ultimate hump. L.A. have really missed the suspended Metta World Peace in this context, as Kobe’s had to guard Danilo Gallinari (MWP’s normal cover), leaving Blake to cover the bigger Miller.

L.A.’s poor shooting percentage, despite a hot fourth quarter in which nearly 50 percent of LAL’s shots went down. An inability to get the ball into the post was a major factor here, and ball reversal was not strong.

Points from Bryant, the 84th time in his career he’s scored at least 30 in a playoff game, 14 of which came in the fourth quarter. Said Nuggets coach George Karl: “Kobe’s incredible; he scares the hell out of me every time we go against him.”

Paint points for the Nuggets, which Mike Brown bemoaned after the game. L.A. had only 44, managing only a combined 25 from Bynum and Gasol. The lack of rim protection is really where the Lakers lost the game. As Mike Brown put it: “Our weak side did not do a good job of protecting the paint like we did last game … Denver came and played a very good game from start to finish. I thought they came out and hit first and continued to hit throughout the game. They were more physical than us.”

LAL 99, DEN 102: Game 5 Running Diary

Below is a running diary of L.A.’s Tuesday evening road playoff game, the Lakers looking to close out the series after taking a 3-1 victory thanks to a Game 4 road win at Denver, with some comments drawn from our @LakersReporter Twitter account, and a few more details in case you missed any of the action:

Lakers: Sessions, Bryant, Ebanks, Gasol and Bynum
Denver: T. Lawson, A. Afflalo, D. Gallinari, K. Faried, T. Mozgov

6:57 With Denver’s typically frenetic activity being led by rookie Kenneth Faried, grabbing four boards in the opening five minutes, the Lakers found themselves down 10-7 at the first time out. But L.A. was getting plenty of wide open shots and simply missing. Only 3 of 11 went down to start things off, Gasol missing two consecutive jumpers with no defenders in sight.

0:00 For the Lakers to close the quarter down only three points despite hitting only 9 of 26 shots and generally playing listless ball was actually somewhat of a blessing. Denver, facing elimination, had more energy, but the Lakers have typically been outstanding in close out games, going 12-1 since 2008. They’d have three more quarters to find that type of mentality, absent in the first 12. One positive sign was the play of Bynum, who grabbed seven boards with six points.

6:30 After Denver opened 0 for 7 from three and the Lakers 0 for 6, Miller and Afflalo drained back-to-back triples to put the Nuggets up 35-29, this after consecutive hoops from Blake and Barnes at the rim tied the game. L.A.’s second unit was scrapping better than the starters, but failed to contest the three-pointers, Bryant begging Miller to shoot it and Afflalo’s coming in transition.

3:47 A blown assignment from Gallinari freed Bryant for a rare wide open jumper, which he hit just his fourth make in 12 attempts, but L.A. then allowed consecutive easy buckets to allow Denver a 41-35 lead. Blake slipped trying to catch a pass, Lawson laying in on the other end, and McGee slammed home a Gallinari miss in the lane. Denver thus had 11 fast break points and eight second chance points.

0:00 It was a forgettable half for the home team, perhaps fortunate to trail by only six after allowing 16 fast break points and shooting only 33 percent. Gasol was 1 for 7 and Bynum 2 for 5, only Kobe’s aggression (18 points, eight free throws) keeping it close. Not what LAL’s coaches wanted to see in a close out game.

7:21 The deficit doubled as Gallinari led an 8-0 burst, but Barnes (in for a struggling Ebanks) hit the first Lakers three of the game and Gasol following with just his second field goal of the game (2 for 8), cutting the deficit to seven at 59-52.

3:03 A quick scoring push from Kobe, with a two and a transition triple, cut what had ballooned to a 12-point lead early in the period down to three. However…

0:00 The Nuggets outscored LAL 10-2 in the final three minutes, repeatedly forcing long jumpers that hadn’t gone in all night, while converting themselves at the other end mostly in the paint. STAPLES Center couldn’t help but boo as their squad trailed 76-65 heading into the final quarter, Denver in the driver’s seat to send the series back to Colorado for a Game 6 LAL did not want to play.

9:02 A microcosm of the game: Sessions and Bryant failed to convert relatively easy transition opportunities, and Denver responded with a 6-0 run to push their lead up to 15 points at 82-67, putting the Lakers in even deeper trouble. A line up of Sessions-Blake-Kobe-Gasol-Bynum would try to make a final push, but L.A. had been unable to find anything all night. For example: Gasol and Bynum had attempted the same number of shots, combined, as Matt Barnes (14). Getting the ball inside just wasn’t happening.

6:35 Steve Blake, who nailed the dagger three to clinch the Game 4 win at Denver, hit consecutive three-pointers to bring some life back into the building, the second a desperation shot-clock beater off glass … but L.A.’s D failed to capitalize, first allowing Miller a layup (as Bynum failed to protect the weak side) and then Afflalo two free throws. Killing the Lakers the most, however, was JaVale McGee, who swooped in for an offensive rebound, took a huge stride and slammed it home right around Bynum, plus the foul. He missed the free throw, but still had his team up 90-75 with just 6:34 to go.

2:33 L.A. suddenly found some life, going on a 16-4 spurt to trim the lead to just four, with Bynum’s put-back layup and a Gasol jumper preceding the second Kobe three in as many minutes….

0:59.1 BLACK MAMBA, WOW. Kobe nailed back-to-back tough three-pointers, his third and fourth in the final four minutes and change, to cut the lead to only two. LAL was 6 of 8 from three in the fourth after hitting 2 of 12 in the first three quarters. But Denver had answers from Andre Miller, the 36-year-old first converting at the rim with a crafty slip move, then hitting a running bank shot to keep the Nuggets up five before Kobe’s final triple. Harrington and Lawson both hit 1 of 2 free throws to twice give the Lakers a chance to tie, but Bryant missed a three and then a runner in the paint. They still weren’t dead, Sessions hitting a triple to cut the lead to one with 14 seconds left, but this time it was Miller hitting two free throws to keep the Nuggs up three.

0:01.8 Bryant, with 14 of his 43 points in the fourth, rose for a potential game-tying three … miss. The offensive board went to Blake, who found Sessions for a chance to tie to beat the buzzer … but he also missed. A crazy, ridiculous ending, but the end result was a flight to Denver for Game 6. LAL lost the game 102-99, a disappointing result to say the least as they failed to match the road team’s energy. We’ll see you on Thursday in Denver.

2012 Playoff Pod No. 3: Bill Macdonald

Bill Macdonald just completed his first regular season as the voice of the Los Angeles Lakers, sharing the games with fans alongside analyst Stu Lantz, and was in his usual courtside seat as the Lakers defeated Denver 92-88 in Game 4 to bring a 3-1 series lead back to Los Angeles.

Macdonald joined us from his Orange County home to discuss what the Lakers need to do to close out the Nuggets in Tuesday’s Game 5, what he’s noticed behind the scenes with the team throughout the year that will come into play moving forward, what stands out the most about Kobe Bryant in the postseason, how he approaches his craft calling games and more.

To listen, click below:

LAL – DEN: Game 4 Postgame #’s

We broke down some of the more intriguing numbers from LAL’s 92-88 Game 4 victory over Denver, giving them a commanding 3-1 lead heading back to STAPLES Center for Tuesday’s Game 5.

Huge, dagger three-pointers for Ramon Sessions (48.1 left) and Blake (18.9) in the game’s final minute that clinched the win for L.A. Pau Gasol set up the Sessions look with a screen of Danilo Gallinari and then his sixth assist, while Bryant drew two defenders – Blake’s man coming completely off him – before finding the backup point guard in the corner. After Blake knocked down the shot to make it 92-86 L.A., Bryant waited for him at midcourt and offered a full embrace and head pat.

Offensive rebounds for Jordan Hill off LAL’s bench in 23 minutes, plus four defensive boards to give him 11 on the night. He used the O boards to get second chance points, hitting 4 of 9 field goals and 4 of 6 free throws for 12 points. Mike Brown praised his activity afterwards, saying how key it was not only because of the production but because it allowed Bynum (35 minutes) and Gasol (37 minutes) to save their legs a bit.

Fourth quarter points for Blake, who added another triple and a long two-point jumper to his dagger three, not to mention a huge defensive play as he swatted Gallinari from behind to erase a transition opportunity. Blake had been only 1 for 6 to start the game before coming up big when it counted. That’s why his teammates trust him — he’s tough.

Fast break points for Denver, which LAL will take against the league’s best running team. The Lakers managed seven fast break points of their own to cut down on the margin.

Points for Bryant to lead the Lakers, though he needed 25 shots to get there since he took only one free throw in a game that was called very loosely, lots of contact allowed on both ends in the paint. But he pushed through nonetheless, finding a way to win by helping to control tempo, hitting the glass for eight boards (second only to Hill’s 11) and dishing six assists, none bigger than the final pass to Blake.

Lakers second chance points, helped by all those offensive boards (19 total) that were a major difference in the game, as stated by George Karl after the game.

LAL 92, DEN 88: Game 4 Running Diary

Below is a running diary of L.A.’s Sunday evening Game 4 road game, the Lakers holding a 2-1 series lead, with some comments drawn from our @LakersReporter Twitter account, and a few more details in case you missed any of the action:

Lakers: Sessions, Bryant, Ebanks, Gasol and Bynum
Denver: T. Lawson, A. Afflalo, D. Gallinari, K. Faried, T. Mozgov

5:45 Denver got three rare buckets from Mozgov to start the game with a 14-11 edge, but Bryant’s first three-pointer tied things up on the next trip down. Much of the pregame focus was on Bynum, who admitted that he “wasn’t ready” to play in the first half of Game 4. But his teammates trusted that he’d come out the right way in Game 4, and he did early, getting to the rim twice for easy buckets, and later swatting JaVale McGee in the paint.

4:00 Kobe was taking the early scoring lead, hitting a tough turnaround jumper off Bynum’s offensive board to match his center’s seven points, but Denver was scoring too in a 20-all game.

0:36.0 L.A.’s D continued to have trouble stopping the Nuggets from scoring inside, with Andre Miller repeatedly posting up smaller guards to score eight of his 10 points to lead all scorers, but Bynum returned the favor with a pretty spin move to his left that McGee could do nothing with to get L.A. within two at 28-26 to close the period.

8:10 A strong start to the second from L.A. produced a 35-32 lead after Barnes split the Nuggets middle for a dunk, capping two Gasol hoops through traffic. During the ensuing time out, Mike Brown pointed out that his players “must be strong with the basketball,” because they were lettin’ ‘em play.

4:58 L.A. continued to get scoring from Kobe (nine points after a tough bank shot off some gorgeous footwork) and Bynum (a short jumper while fading away), but a clear path foul on Barnes after his turnover got Denver two FT’s (Miller made one) and the ball, which resulted in a Faried put-back layup to put Denver up 41-39.

0:00 It was not a strong close to the half for the Lakers, who conceded a 6-0 run before Sessions scored in transition that helped Denver take a 51-45 lead into the half. The two players hurting L.A. for the second straight game were rookie Faried and sub McGee, the former tipping in misses and generally flying around and the latter clogging the paint defensively, influencing or blocking many Lakers attempts.

9:30 L.A. started to do what it does when most effective, getting Bryant and then Bynum touches in the paint, both of which were converted to cut the lead to two. They had combined for 29 points to that point, and were building steam.

7:09 The lead went back to the Lakers thanks to their controlling tempo in the first five minutes, which was helped on by two Gasol jumpers and Bynum free throws as L.A. began to assert its will. However, Denver was getting a hot shooting Italian as Gallinari sank his eighth bucket in 13 attempts, for 16 points to match Bryant.

3:05 Just when L.A. was starting to really control tempo and force Denver into tough shots, the Nuggets got a bail-out three as the shot clock expired, and then an Afflalo layup in transition off a long miss from Steve Blake. The backup PG did, however, respond with a jumper on the next trip, tying it up at 63.

11:00 Blake’s three-pointer immediately put the Lakers on top to start the fourth, and two Gasol jumpers in the following minutes helped open a three-point lead, actually the biggest of the night. Crunch time coming for the whole quarter, folks.

5:46 Blake hit his second key shot of the quarter, putting LAL up 82-78, with the Nuggets focusing so much on Bryant and the bigs. Kobe was not off to a good start in the fourth, missing his first three shots plus a turnover. But L.A. would manage to get control, Bynum and Bryant hitting their first shots of the period to put keep the Lakers up.

0:18.9 Did we mention Steve Blake? Well, he hit his biggest shot as a Laker, dropping a corner three that came off Kobe’s penetration and drawing of a second defender, putting the Lakers up six and sealing a 92-88 win. Bryant told me after the game on KCAL that he has full trust in his teammates, and knew Blake could knock down such a pressure shot, and was thrilled to see him prove it. And, by the way, Ramon Sessions added a huge shot of his own, breaking an 86-all tie with a three of his own on the previous possession, thanks to a screen and dish from Gasol.

With that, LAL took a 3-1 series lead, which they’ll take home to try and close Denver out on Tuesday evening. We’ll see you there.

LAL – DEN: Game 3 Postgame #’s

We broke down some of the more intriguing numbers from LAL’s 99-84 Game 3 loss to Denver in the first road game of the postseason:

First half points for Andrew Bynum on 0 for 3 shooting, but he rebounded in a big way in the second half, scoring all 18 of his points plus grabbing seven of his 12 total rebounds and two blocks.

Nuggets turnovers, compared to the 15 they caused the Lakers to cough up.

Rebounds for point guard Ramon Sessions, who had a solid game in his first road playoff contest. He added 15 points and a team-high tying six assists (Kobe Bryant).

Rebounds for both Kenneth Faried and JaVale McGee, whose energy really hurt the Lakers all night long. They also scored a combined 28 points in the ball game.

Fast break points for Denver, which the Lakers will actually take, after 30 fast break points in Game 2 from the league’s best running team.

Lakers deficit in the second quarter after a 20-2 run to close the first quarter became a 28-2 run with a burst into the second period. L.A. did fight back to cut the lead to as few as four points in the third quarter, but would get no closer, the lead proving to big.

Three-pointers attempted by the Lakers, far more than they’d like to take. The Nuggets were allowing that shot to come, their entire philosophy revolving around packing the paint, helping them win the paint point battle 52-32. L.A. made only six of those triples, with Kobe going 3 for 10.

LAL 84, DEN 99: Game 3 Running Diary

Below is a running diary of L.A.’s Friday evening road playoff contest against Denver, the Lakers coming in with a 2-0 series lead, with some comments drawn from our @LakersReporter Twitter account, and a few more details in case you missed any of the action:

Lakers: Sessions, Bryant, Ebanks, Gasol and Bynum
Denver: T. Lawson, A. Afflalo, D. Gallinari, K. Faried, T. Mozgov

12:00 Hello from Denver, folks. One difference from George Karl to start the first Nuggets home game: Timofey Mozgov got the start at center instead of Kosta Koufos, in an attempt to show more size on Bynum. Karl did say that he wouldn’t make an adjustment on Kobe, averaging 34.5 points per game, however, as he was more concerned about Gasol and Bynum getting wide open looks inside.

3:17 A 9-0 Nuggets run thanks to a mix of offensive rebounding and fast break points (6) off misses and turnovers gave Denver a 19-12 lead, the first deficit of any kind the Lakers had faced in this series. Afflalo also hit two triples, after going 0 for 8 in Games 1 and 2, plus a jumper to lead Denver with eight points.

0:00 It only got worse for the Lakers from there. Would you believe a 20-2 Nuggets run to close the quarter? The resulting score was 30-14, with Denver hitting 48% of its shots to LAL’s 37%, using six offensive boards, seven fast break points, two triples and four free throws, with LAL getting none of any.

10:24 Did we mention that it only got worse? The Nuggets scored the first eight points of the second quarter to open an improbable 38-14 lead, LAL looking strangely rattled, and Denver flying all over the place.

7:34 L.A. did eventually respond, however, getting a 9-0 run to cut Denver’s 24-point lead at its zenith down to 15. Barnes converted a transition layup and Blake a three out of a time out to cap the run, after Mike Brown had preached patience and control in the huddle. Two minutes later, Bryant dropped his second triple surrounding two of his own free throws to cut the lead down to 11 points, 13 off the 24-point total from early in the period.

2:03 The lead dropped to as few as 11, but L.A. couldn’t get closer, with Denver scoring four straight to push their edge back to 17 when JaVale McGee hit his third improbable field goal at the rim, and Lawson got to the rim. Perhaps the larger story: LAL had gotten no points on 0 of 3 field goals from Bynum, who was also inactive protecting the rim, after two very strong all-around games in Los Angeles. The halftime deficit, all told, was 16 at 55-39,

6:34 Bynum’s second field goal in a row built upon a fantastic possession from Kobe, who first won a jump ball over the 7-1 Mozgov, then pulled up for a deep three to beat the shot clock, reaching 19 points and getting L.A. within nine. We had a ball game brewing despite that huge early run from the home team.

3:16 More Bynum, with a second and-1 layup with McGee committing the foul, the latter cutting Denver’s lead down to just seven. Bynum had 10 points, after the goose egg in the first half, and after a goaltend wasn’t called, Sessions dropped a jumper off the loose ball to trim the lead even further at 67-62.

0:00 The lead was seven after a 26-17 quarter for the Lakers, who got a fantastic period from Bynum (12 points, four boards, one block) and thus trailed by only seven despite a late bucket from Andre Miller (the only player in the series averaging more than Gasol’s 6.5 assists). LAL dominated the glass in the quarter, grabbing 18, the same number they totaled in the first half.

5:12 LAL was as close as four points in the third quarter, looking well on their way back while controlling tempo, but Denver got back to its running game in the fourth, building its lead back up to 10 points with five minutes to play. Two young Nuggets bigs, McGee and Faried, had double-doubles, thanks mostly to extra effort, and meanwhile, the Lakers had already attempted 21 triples, making only six.

2:04 Bryant hit 1 of 2 free throws, for just his sixth point of the second half (6 of 21 FG’s) and Sessions two free throws, but a Faried elbow jumper kept the Nuggets up seven points as the clock became a major issue…

0:00 … And, yes, the mountain proved too high to climb. Allowing that massive Nuggets run to close the first quarter and start the second, creating a 24-point deficit, came back to bite hard, despite trimming (at one point) 20 points off that margin. Silver lining: LAL knows that its effort can improve markedly in the first half of Game 4. Taking a 3-1 series lead heading back for Game 5 just takes a better Game 4 effort. The final: 99-84. We’ll see you on Sunday.

Transition D the Key

There’s an argument to be made that transition defense is the most important aspect of L.A.’s game plan against the Nuggets.

Mike Brown’s team executed that plan quite well in Game 1, limiting Denver to 19 fast break points, though the Nuggets were so intent upon run outs in Game 2 that L.A. found the visitors difficult to contain, allowing 30 transition points that kept Denver in a game the Lakers controlled thanks to half court execution on both ends.

The league’s leading fast break scoring team in the league during the regular season will surely try to push the tempo even more so with their home crowd and the thin Rocky Mountain air, so we asked Brown to take us through exactly what the Lakers need to do to corral that pressure.

He didn’t skip any steps while offering an in-succession answer:

1) “First off, when we are on offense and a shot goes up, if you’re a big and you’re already in the paint, go ahead and offensive rebound. If you’re a big and you’re out of the paint, get back. If you’re a small and one of the other two smalls takes the shot, you and the other that didn’t shoot must sprint back immediately.”
- Brown explained that these things have to happen the second a shot is in the air, and that as soon as it does, the first two steps need to be “an explosion.” Meanwhile, eyes need to be trained up court, to gather where the opponent is running.

2) “Once the basket is protected, the next thing is to stop the basketball. We have to stop it without giving up middle drives, and now – because we’re stopping the ball in a no-middle stance – the ball should be on one side of the court or the other.”
- Eliminating the middle prevents easy and direct drives to the hoop, a top priority.

3) “The next step is to load to the basketball, to build a wall that can’t be penetrated.”
- If a Nuggets’ guard is bringing the ball up the right side of the court, Brown doesn’t want his defenders sprinting to the other side of the court.

4) “The last guy down the floor in transition has to run to the weak side, so he’ll have enough time to bump out a small, if the small has a big in a mismatch.”
- This is often one of L.A.’s two bigs, who is more likely to be in the paint going after an offensive board. It’s his job to sprint back to that weak side in case one of the guards has had to body up an opposing big.

5) “Our next thing is to find what we call ‘most dangerous.’ Now that we have the ball stopped, we’ve loaded on the strong side and the paint looks crowded, we can build out to shooters. If we have to give up any shot, it’s going to be a late, contested three.”
- Once the first four priorities are accomplished, players have to be smart enough to recognize what’s dangerous (say, Danilo Gallinari spotting up for a trailing three) and what’s not (Timofey Mozgov trailing the play outside of the paint).

6) “Then it’s just box out and rebound.”
- Naturally.

So that’s the progression that Mike Brown wants his players thinking about literally every time a shot goes in the air, which is very much easier said than done, especially when a team like Denver gets some momentum going. But as Brown pointed out, we can’t gloss over how important L.A.’s offensive execution is to transition defense.

“It all starts with how we’re playing offensively,” he explained. “If we take a poor shot or a quick shot, if we have all five guys below the free throw line when the shot goes up, if we ball watch when the shot goes up, if we turn the ball over and our floor balance isn’t correct we can get into trouble.

“All those things can help our opponent get out and attack us in transition because our floor balance is bad.”

The other thing to avoid, at all costs, is having mental lapses, which is how big runs start. Say a player takes a bad shot, then two others don’t get back in transition, there can start to be a snowball effect.

“We can’t afford that,” Brown continued. “One thing we say to our guys a lot is ‘next play,’ meaning if I turn it over, they get a dunk if I don’t immediately sprint back. It’s not human like to think of having an explosion back after an error, because you naturally are thinking about your mistake, but you just have to move on immediately to take away an opportunity at the other end.”

When Game 3 is over late on Friday night, go ahead and check the “fast break points” statistic for Denver; it will most likely go a long ways towards telling the tale of the contest.

Playoff Podcast No. 2: Benjamin Hochman

With the Lakers heading to Denver holding a 2-0 lead in their first round playoff series against the Nuggets, we called up the Denver Post’s Benjamin Hochman to provide some insight leading into Friday’s Game 3.

L.A. controlled the first two games in Los Angeles, never trailing in two wire-to-wire victories, getting 34.5 ppg from Kobe Bryant and dominant all-around play from 7-footers Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, who helped limit the Nuggets despite a far better Game 2 effort led by Ty Lawson.

Hochman offered his report from Wednesday’s Nuggets practice, detailed what to expect from Denver in Games 3 and 4 and explained how he came upon the nickname “Tinafey” for Timofey Mozgov (get it???).

To listen, click here: