- David Thorpe, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Lakers now remember what a great defense looks like, which must remind them of Boston's in last year's NBA Finals. While Boston's defense is more physical, Houston's is physical enough and terrific in overall execution. Houston plays the best defense inside of 15 feet. And it's very good at running shooters off the 3-point line.
The Lakers must match Houston's intensity and discipline if they are to even the series. But with Houston playing at such a high level on defense, winning a second straight game on the road is very possible. Even in L.A.
• Andrew Bynum started the game matched up with Yao Ming and picked up two quick, needless fouls. It looks like he can keep Yao from getting great position, though he'll need help on back-downs. But he's still L.A.'s best guy to defend Yao, so he must be smarter about picking up fouls.
Bynum will need to get back early and start hitting Yao at the free throw line, moving him out just a little farther. Once Yao has great position inside, pushing him out is too risky.
• Luis Scola is a top-notch help defender, always sniffing out where the opponents are looking to attack with the pass, dribble or cut. He foiled some of the Lakers' action and got away with it because Lamar Odom stayed inactive near Scola.
When Odom sees Scola taking his eyes off him and following the ball or looking for a cutter (instead of seeing the ball and Odom), he needs to make strong face cuts or get out of the basket area and get open on the perimeter. There, he can catch and attack, and not just settle for jumpers. Settling is what Scola and the Rockets hope he does.
• Lakers post players tried to back down and outmaneuver the much smaller Chuck Hayes on the block. But he's too strong and wide to get by (wide because he spreads his legs and gets really low), so they end up forcing shots. If they can't catch with an angle to attack right away, they're better off kicking it out and re-posting or moving.
• Houston had success running ball screens for Brooks because Pau Gasol showed for only a few steps before recovering back to his man. The problem was he never slowed Brooks first, which gave Brooks the angle to the hoop when Gasol stopped sliding. Either the Lakers need to send another defender to pick him up, or Gasol has to forget about his man until Brooks' momentum is slowed and his own defender recovers back to him.
• Odom was able to find creases to the rim, going left -- by far his best direction -- when he caught the ball in the middle in the early offense (especially when he was guarded by Artest, who tends to look to be a helper early).
• The Lakers had numerous charges in transition simply because they ran over Houston's defenders who were back and waiting on them. Houston is going to be doing that all series, so L.A.'s drivers have to be more disciplined and pull up for short jumpers rather than try to force their way to the rim.
• The Rockets have to do a better job of feeding Yao when he's being guarded by Gasol, who is a master craftsman, baiting passers to throw the ball before maneuvering for the deflection or steal.
• Houston struggled to defend the pinch-post action when it ended with handoffs and weakside curls. The Rockets' guards are trailing the cutter, so the big men defending the ball on the handoff, or the screener, have to jump out and slide sideways to offer curl protection. Otherwise, the runners get an easy shot as they use their speed to gain separation from their trailing defenders.
• Von Wafer was asked to handle the ball some in the early offense, and he struggled as L.A. increased ball pressure. The Rockets were hoping to run Brooks off screens, but to do that they'll need to go small and put Lowry in to handle the ball. It worked well when they did that in the second half.
• When Artest feeds Yao and does not clear, Artest allows his man (often Ariza) to make quick dives into Yao without risking much. The risk is small because the distance from Yao back to Artest is small, effectively allowing a quick and long guy like Ariza to gamble on a strip steal inside while being only a few steps away from contesting a shot by Artest if the ball is kicked out. Better to have Artest cut through after the post feed, or just use a different player to pass inside.
• Artest had multiple possessions when he dribbled out much of the clock before taking a poor shot. In a matchup this tight, Houston cannot afford to waste any possessions.
• Kobe can get streaky enough with his jumper to carry L.A. to a victory. So when he's on one of his streaks, even Yao cannot be afraid to stay out on him, after showing on a ball screen, until Kobe's defender returns. Yao is reluctant to leave the paint for more than a beat or two, but he has to when Kobe is on a run, like he was in the third quarter.
• Kobe did not look like himself on Monday night, and he probably was sicker than anyone realized. He has great respect for Houston's defense, but knowing what being down 2-0 means, he'll pull out all his tricks and talent to help his team tie the series.
• Gasol played well and produced fine, but he can do more against the Rockets. Expect more passes for him inside, via pinch-post action, post-ups and pick-and-pops.
• The Lakers may have shot poorly in Game 1, but the Rockets did not control either backboard -- something they typically do in the postseason. Gasol alone got five offensive rebounds, one fewer than the entire Houston team. Expect a much better effort on both sides for Game 2, and if Houston controls its defensive board, L.A. will have even more pressure to shoot well.
In the first round against the Jazz, L.A. was never really pushed to execute on offense or else risk losing the series. But Houston will force the Lakers to do just that.
Brooks and Artest both shot well, a combo that greatly increases Houston's chances of winning games. L.A. should have a better answer for Brooks and play much better on offense, as well.
Prediction: Lakers win Game 2
David Thorpe is an NBA analyst for Scouts Inc. and the executive director of the Pro Training Center in Clearwater, Fla., where he oversees the player development program for more than 40 NBA, European and D-League players. Those players include Kevin Martin, Rob Kurz, Luol Deng, Courtney Lee and Tyrus Thomas. To e-mail him, click here.
Synergy Sports Technology systems were used in the preparation of this report.
Scouts Inc. breaks down Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals series between the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers and picks the winner.