Lakers start preparation with look back
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Monday was Memorial Day, and the Los Angeles Lakers began their NBA Finals preparation by sharpening their memories with a film session to review how they fared against the Boston Celtics in a split of two regular-season meetings this season.
The Celtics game tape that is unforgettable for Lakers fans, however, is from June 17, 2008, when Boston beat L.A. by 39 points to capture the NBA championship.
The Lakers have been reluctant to put too much emphasis on any motivation they might generate from that memory, but recognize the strides they have made as a team in the two seasons since then.
"This is a team that's a little experienced now. We've won a championship, we have a little more under our belt as a basketball club," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "I think we were a little green when we came into the playoffs in 2008. As a team, we played with Pau [Gasol] for 30-some games, part of a season. We lost Drew [Andrew Bynum] for the rest of the season. We were young in a lot of other spots. This team is mature now, experienced."
That maturation has brought improvement against Boston, as the Lakers have won three out of four games against the Celtics since the 2008 Finals, and their only loss was by one point in a game that Kobe Bryant missed with a left ankle injury.
The Lakers' biggest adjustment has come against Boston's defense, which held Bryant below 30 points in all but two games of the '08 Finals, and Gasol below 20 points in all six games; L.A. averaged just 93 points on 44 percent shooting.
"You have to understand how they play defensively and how to attack their defense," Gasol said. "It's pretty predictable as far as they try to take away your first and second options and they try to force you to make extra passes. They give something away too; they're going to give things up. But they do a good job just being solid and hitting people when they come to the lane. It's going to be a challenge, but I think we're familiar with their play defensively and offensively and we just got to be effective and, more than anything, be aggressive."
Bryant wasn't ready to declare victory against the Celtics' defensive schemes either, knowing full well what assistant coach Tom Thibodeau did to him with Boston's defensive schemes the last time they played with a title on the line.
"It's different," Bryant said. "You give [Thibodeau] a series to prepare, things will be a little different. Things will be tough and more challenging, as opposed to playing each other twice in the regular season. It's a tough gauge. But we're confident in what we have to do and we'll be ready."
Jackson and the rest of the Lakers' coaching staff also will have more time to prepare an offensive plan to fend off Boston's D.
"We're much more cautious, I think, about what we were doing on the floor offensively, understanding better what we had to do to deal with the defense that they like to run and, I thought, just a little more prepared," Jackson said.
While the Lakers' success in dissecting the Celtics' defense will be important, L.A. cannot lose focus on making stops of its own, as Bryant suggested was the case after L.A. lost Game 4 of the Western Conference finals to Phoenix after being preoccupied with the Suns' zone defense.
"It will be a defensive battle this series," Bynum said. "It's going to be who is going to play the best defense."
Boston barbWith Game 1 not until Thursday, Jackson got the war of words started early when asked why the Celtics are considered "tough" but the Lakers are not.
"We don't have a smack-down mentality," Jackson said." You might have seen that with [Kevin] Garnett on [Dwight] Howard there in Boston [Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals] where he was smacking Howard's arm and was finally called for an offensive foul. That's not our kind of team. We don't go out there to smack people around."
Jackson preferred to label the Lakers "resilient" rather than "tough."
"We're a more resilient ballclub," Jackson said.
"We try to stay strong and play hard, but we're going to have to withstand some of that and we're going to have to play through it. That's the thing that seems to have been the penchant for this [Boston] team, is that you got to come out and play hard and be physical with the Lakers. We have some guys who are capable of playing to that style with [Derek] Fisher and Ron [Artest] and obviously Kobe, but our big guys are going to have to stand up because that's basically what got the Celtics through Orlando."
Boston center Kendrick Perkins has six technical fouls entering the series (he had seven, but the last one was rescinded prior to Game 6 against the Magic). If Perkins is called for one more during the series, he will receive a one-game suspension in the Finals. Jackson said his team will not use any tough or dirty tactics to try to pry a reaction out of Perkins that would warrant a seventh technical foul to be called on him.
"I don't like to play ball [like that]," Jackson said. "I don't even like to think about those kind of things. Those things, I think, should be wiped out -- flagrant fouls, technical fouls. It just means that the longer you've been in the playoffs, the more penalized you are. It seems like that's not a really good code right now."
That isn't the only thing the 64-year-old coach wants the NBA to change. He also took exception with the time the league schedules games during the Finals.
"The league takes over a lot of what we do; our practices and how games are developed, we play at six o'clock, five o'clock here on the West Coast, in the East Coast we play at midnight or sometime late in the morning," Jackson said.
They Said It"I'm playing in it. I don't give a damn about it. That's for other people to get excited about. I get excited about winning." -- Bryant on the Lakers-Celtics rivalry.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.