It seems like every time the Lakers have lost a game in this series the common opinion has been that the Lakers have lost because they didn’t play with any heart or energy; as if the Rockets are not also a talented team of professional basketball players also trying to win.
Think about this; while the Cavaliers sailed through the 2nd round pounding on a team that won 47 games during the regular season,(that’s less than the western conference 8-seed) the Lakers have been locked in a seven game struggle with Houston, a 53 game winner this season. Houston, who finished just one win shy of being the number 2 seed in the western conference. Now while it’s also true that they’ve been without T-Mac for most of the season and then they lost Yao halfway through this series; I don’t necessarily believe that makes them any less dangerous (at least in terms in how they match up with the Lakers). In fact I actually think that the Lakers would have won this series already if Yao had not been hurt.
When Yao is in the game it slows everything down and while their interior defense may be better; their offense is not nearly as quick or efficient. You don’t see the same type of swift ball movement when Yao is in as they force feed him the ball and run their offense from the inside out. This type offense and pace is perfect for the Lakers. The type of team that has traditionally given a Phil Jackson coached team troubles is one that plays quick and imposes a fast paced game; a team that moves the ball around well and pushes the tempo at both ends of the floor; a team like what the Rockets have become since Yao went down.
Don’t get me wrong, the Rockets are better against most teams with Yao then they are without him but in terms of how they matchup with the Lakers, this current group presents more of a challenge.
I actually thought the Lakers did play with some energy last night (unlike game 4) in particular when they cut the lead to 54-52 in the 3rd. There were certainly moments when Rocket players were left wide open but they also hit some pretty well defended jumpers too (the type of shots that seem the fall at home but clank out on the road). What the Lakers didn’t do was play smart.
I’m not sure what it will take for PJ to give Farmar more minutes (does he have a personal grudge against him)? I also fail to understand why it is that in game 5 they went inside to the bigs repeatedly; taking advantage of the obvious mismatches but in game 6 the same strategy was never really employed. It’s just one of those bizarre things that seem to happen in the NBA playoffs; teams play smarter at home than on the road. I’m sure there are plenty of Rocket fans that could tell us of some things they see the Rockets do differently at home as opposed to on the road. Let’s hope this pattern can stay consistent and that the home team holds serve this Sunday. I know my heart will be racing and stomach will be all butterflies this Sunday.
Looking ahead to 2010 I shudder to think about how good a fully healthy Rockets team playing as team can be. Unfortunately for them I’m not sure that’s ever going to happen. I’m not really convinced that either Yao or T-Mac will ever go a full season healthy.