- David Thorpe, NBA
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Los Angeles came into Game 2 intent on looking like the Phoenix Suns of "7 Seconds or Less" fame. They raced up the floor, shot quickly and found an immediate shooting groove. Without a doubt, it knocked Houston's players to the ground. But the resilient Rockets laced up their speed team and not only got back up, but were beating L.A. at its own game. That is, until Los Angeles turned into the Boston Celtics, circa 2008 (or perhaps 1986). The fight was on, and is still on, for Game 3.
• To match L.A.'s first-quarter pace, Adelman inserted Kyle Lowry and Von Wafer, two great runners. It helped Houston get untracked. But they went really small with Wafer, Lowry and Aaron Brooks, and Carl Landry and Chuck Hayes inside. Wafer is such a poor ball handler that Adelman can not play him much in the shooting guard spot, and moving him to the 3 meant he had few ballhandling duties. It was a smart move, and that Rockets lineup helped Houston outscore L.A. 32-18 in the second quarter. Landry and Hayes play so much bigger than they really are, and together they outplayed L.A.'s inside guys. It's a unit that Adelman can now go to with confidence going forward if he wants to jump start his team.
• Houston has to think "sprint and locate," not "run and protect the paint" in order to defend L.A.'s running game because of the Lakers' ability and willingness to take and make 3s and jumpers early in the clock. L.A. increased its tempo in order to not have to face the full five-on-five effect of Houston's defense in the half court. The Rockets now have to work harder to make sure that's exactly what L.A. faces as much as possible.
• The Lakers rediscovered Pau Gasol, partly because Yao Ming does not like to leave the post area on defense. This allows Gasol to set up shop in the pinch post area, a good five to seven feet from where Yao is. Gasol can shoot, drive, pass, or take great angles to get offensive boards without pressure from Yao. In fact, his 10 offensive rebounds in the series are evidence that he learned a great deal from the meltdown against Boston in the NBA Finals. Gasol is stepping up his effort, and now Yao must match it. Again, given how Game 3 is likely to be called, and that Yao had five fouls in 26 minutes in Game 2, how tough Yao can play Gasol without fouling is probably the biggest question facing Houston right now.
• The Lakers defended Yao much better in Game 2, fronting him more in the low post and sending Lamar Odom into the ball-side box near Yao whenever the ball handler crossed below the free throw line (which is normally where they'll feed Yao). It effectively bottled up Yao. Houston can try passing down to Yao from above the line, before Odom comes over, if Yao can keep Gasol behind him. If not, Houston could put Luis Scola in more threatening spots on the weak side, hoping to keep Odom closer to home. Or they can pop Yao out to run side pick-and-pops, possibly opening up driving lanes for Brooks.
• The Lakers have to help Trevor Ariza when Ron Artest backs him down. Artest not only overpowers Ariza, but he can outcraft him, too. He's brilliant at using his long arms to get off makeable shots inside. Assuming Game 3 is going to be tightly called because of the events in Game 2, Artest is going to be even tougher to stop without a second guy helping.
• Jordan Farmar went under a screen for Brooks, who ended up hitting a long two. Brooks has made 17-of-42 3s in the postseason, and if you eliminate his poor 1-for-8 performance in Game 5 at Portland, he's 16-for-34. Playing him under a ball screen is not the right choice.
• Shannon Brown went for a Lowry shot fake on a jump shot -- not smart. Forcing him to shoot from the perimeter is the plan. Allowing him to penetrate is not.
• Isolating Gasol on Yao paid dividends, and it's logical that we'll see L.A. do more of it going forward. Gasol can shoot over Yao if Yao stays back, and he can jab step to get to the rim. It's an excellent second option behind getting the ball to Kobe Bryant wherever he wants it.
• The Lakers put Andrew Bynum on Hayes and Odom on Landry, figuring Landry is the better shooter. But Odom is their guy to provide help on drives, roaming around looking to be a presence on the ball side. And Landry killed them for it, scoring 15 points in the second quarter. He's too good in space (which he had since Odom was roaming) and his nose for the ball is too strong once the shot is taken. Odom simply could not roam and recover fast enough to body up Landry on a shot. It might be better to put Bynum on him and not have Odom offer much help. Hayes has a great feel for where the ball is going, too, but is not the offensive threat Landry is.
• Lowry hurt L.A. with ball penetration, typically using screens. The Lakers' big men have to get low and slide a good three steps to slow Lowry down. They can play him for the pass, so sliding toward the rim and not mirroring his driving angle is OK.
• L.A. wants a track meet more so than Houston, but that second-quarter unit Houston used really put L.A. on its heels. The Lakers have a strong defense when all five guys are back and set. So when Houston goes small it may make sense to commit one fewer guy to the offensive glass so as to ensure the Lakers can get back in transition defense and force the five-on-five action.
• The emotions in their home building figure to be running sky high. How Houston deals with that early is vital. They are going to want to throw knockout punches, but patiently playing their game one possession at a time is their best plan.
• Artest. Which guy will we see?
• Yao staying out of foul trouble, and putting Gasol into foul trouble, are priorities.
• With Fisher out, can L.A.'s other guards keep the team focused on executing and withstanding some Houston surges?
• Will Houston allow Kobe to score 40-plus if he gets rolling?
Had L.A. showed the kind of toughness we saw in Game 2 against Houston in last season's NBA Finals, that outcome might have been different. The playoffs are cumulative learning experiences, and Boston taught the Lakers well. Houston will without a doubt be ready to fight again in Game 3, but L.A.'s defense should be the difference.
Prediction: Lakers wins Game 3
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 3 of the Western Conference semifinals series between the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers and picks the winner.