- Tim Legler, NBA studio analyst
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Each and every one of us has to make adjustments on a daily basis that enable us to lead more rewarding, stress-free lives. For example, hear a funny noise coming from under the hood? Have a mechanic take a look at the problem and make an "adjustment." Your back is feeling a little tight? Surely, a visit to the chiropractor for a little "adjustment" will make all the difference. Teenager giving you fits? Maybe an attitude "adjustment" is in order. You get the picture. It's all about the adjustments.
The NBA playoffs are no different.
Got a 21-year-old point guard running circles around your entire team and generally making your lives miserable for 48 minutes? Time for a few adjustments.
Tired of dealing with listless defensive efforts, lack of an offensive identity and all-around chaos? (Not to mention the prospect of facing the NBA's best team defense) Then you need to make a whole bunch of adjustments and hope one or two work out for you.
Is your inability to muster any semblance of a halfcourt offense when your running game is taken away causing you sleepless nights? Might want to make a few adjustments.
The fate of the Los Angeles Lakers and New Jersey Nets depend on the solutions that Phil Jackson and Lawrence Frank can come up this weekend in response to the various problems their teams face in their respective conference semifinal showdowns with the San Antonio Spurs and Detroit Pistons. Having said that, look for the following adjustments to be made if the Lakers and Nets intend to climb their way back into contention.
Adjustment No. 1
Lakers: Pick your poison with Tony Parker. Look, I know this isn't easy. That's why this is the NBA we're talking about. Tony Parker looks as if he is in the midst of a practice scrimmage, or maybe a pickup game in the French Riviera. He looks way too comfortable! He looks that way because the Lakers are allowing him to go wherever he wants on the basketball court. If L.A.'s defense continues to allow Parker to both shoot the uncontested jump shot coming off the pick and roll and penetrate at will in isolation and transition situations, this series will be a San Antonio sweep.
I understand that Gary Payton has probably lost a step defensively. Parker's dominance, however, is not as simple as turning The Glove into French toast. It is not all Payton's fault. Quite frankly, he is being hung out to dry by a lack of intensity and a poor approach to defending the pick and roll. The Lakers' big men, primarily Shaquille O'Neal and Karl Malone, are not even in the vicinity when Parker comes off the screens set by Rasho Nesterovic and Tim Duncan. As a result, Parker is allowed to shoot an uncontested 18-foot jumper as soon as the game gets underway. News flash! He can make that one. (You might want to check out SportsCenter if you don't believe me).
Let's assume that the Lakers have chosen that scenario as the lesser of two evils. Fine. Let him have it all night. Pick your poison, so to speak. But if that's the case, his penetration must be limited by running an extra defender at him whenever he penetrates in an attempt to disrupt with his uncanny ability to split gaps and drop floaters over Shaq's outstretched hands. Have Kobe Bryant or Devean George waiting on Parker as he comes out of his patented spin move in the lane. Great players in this league will destroy a defense if some aspect of their offensive arsenal isn't taken away. That is exactly what the Lakers must do to Tony Parker.
Adjustment No. 2
Lakers: Get your best unit on the floor at the start of the game. It's time for Phil Jackson to bend a little. The Lakers need Payton to play at a much higher level to get past the Spurs. Clearly, GP is frustrated by his lack of opportunities to make plays within the confines of the Lakers' offense. That frustration is now carrying over to the defensive end of the floor as well. It is a tough spot for both coach and player. Fortunately, I have a solution that will make everybody happy.
Replace George with Derek Fisher in the starting lineup. As a result, Payton moves to the off-guard where he can be more aggressive looking for his offense. In the triangle offense, the shooting guard gets more opportunities in the wing isolation area to take his man off the dribble or get a pick-and-roll situation. That should put a smile on Payton's face! Also, defensively, Fisher has a better chance of containing Parker's initial penetration and Payton can utilize his size and instincts as a roamer to create turnovers while only having to keep one eye on the corner-shooting Bruce Bowen.
Bryant, meanwhile, gets to do virtually the same thing he does now, only with a better chance of ending up with Hedo Turkoglu looking him in the eye than Bowen. The Lakers, if they make this adjustment, will start games with better spacing on the offensive end due to the presence of a 3-point threat in Fisher, as well as the defensive benefits already mentioned. Isn't that simple? Now about that Duncan guy ...
Adjustment No. 3
Nets: SCORE! This is the toughest adjustment of all because the Pistons' defense is tailor-made for what the Nets bring to the table offensively. The Pistons are taller and longer at each position. They can run the floor in defensive transition. They have shot blockers at all three frontcourt positions in Tayshaun Prince, Rasheed Wallace and Ben Wallace. This is perfect for New Jersey's array of track stars, slashers and penetrators, all of whom want to get to the rim. Good luck! Darko Milicic has a better chance of getting his number called in the fourth quarter of a close game than the Nets do of scoring in the paint.
Now you are probably saying it looks awfully bleak, Legs. Alas, there is hope. The Nets can play some pretty suffocating defense of their own. Their offense will have to begin at the defensive end of the floor. Pressure. Pressure. Pressure. Jason Kidd, Kerry Kittles, Richard Jefferson and Kenyon Martin have to utilize their speed and athleticism to get into passing lanes, force turnovers and create chaos. This, and only this, will allow the Nets to breathe in the open court and string together a couple of runs that might just get them to 75 points. Against the Pistons, that will give them a chance.
Tim Legler, an NBA analyst for ESPN and former NBA 3-point champion, is a weekly contributor to ESPN.com during the NBA playoffs.
6dEthan Sherwood Strauss
7dMatt Walks, ESPN.com