On Christmas the Cavaliers beat the Lakers, 102-87. Mo Williams had a team-high 28 points hitting 13 of 18 shots. But last night the Cavs were without Williams who will be out over a month with a sprained left shoulder. So things were going to be different this time, right? Wrong. It was closer but the Lakers still fell to the Cavaliers, 93-87.
The Lakers had no answer for LeBron James. Ron Artest got the almost impossible task of defending the King and he couldn't handle him. There's not many players that are both stronger and quicker than Artest but there also aren't many players in the NBA that are stronger OR quicker than LeBron. In the first half the Lakers sent Pau Gasol on the double team but James is too good of a passer. He had five assists in the half and three of them went to Gasol's man, J.J. Hickson for dunks. When they didn't double him he was hitting his outside shot at a good rate. He had 18 points and five assists in the half on just 10 shots. Hickson, the beneficiary of James' passing ability had 11 points and seven rebounds at halftime.
They might not have had an answer for LeBron on the defensive end but Bryant was their answer on the offensive end. He had 20 at the half, hitting eight of 16 shots. But Bryant could learn from LeBron - or he could even learn from Kobe from three years ago. Bryant relies too much on his jump shot. Yes, it's the best in the game but jump shooters are prone to streaks and when they go cold it's deadly. Bryant needs to manufacture easy points by going to the rim and drawing the foul. He can still beat his man off the dribble. In fact, if he did this more often it would cause his defender to back off and make those jumpers easier. In the second half Bryant went cold and hit just four of 15 from the field.
But the difference was LeBron in the fourth quarter. He scored 12 points and didn't even come in until about halfway through the quarter. He hit five of his seven shots and scored seven straight points when the game was tied at 80.
The other difference though - the one that's most frustrating and could've made all of the good things the Cavs did a moot point - was free throw shooting. The Lakers hit just 15 of 24 free throws. With the Lakers trailing by two points with 24 seconds to go, Gasol missed both of his free throws.
This is a tough matchup for the Lakers and if they meet in the
Finals they will have to make some serious adjustments. Here are some
-Be physical with Anderson Varejao. Lamar Odom is just as strong as Varejao but you wouldn't know it by watching them play. Varejao comes up with a ton of loose balls and rebounds. Odom must put a body on him at all times when he's playing defense.
-Andrew Bynum must avoid foul trouble. Gasol can't guard Shaq. That was proven in the third quarter when on consecutive possessions Shaq muscled his way to buckets on the slender Gasol. Gasol was on Shaq because Bynum had four fouls. He has to save those for Shaq and not pick up silly fouls.
-Double LeBron James (selectively). He made the Lakers pay when they doubled him 18 feet from the bucket. What they need to do is only double when LeBron gets to within about 10-12 feet of the basket. The Lakers are fine with him hitting jumpers. It's when he drives to the lane and gets easy baskets or free throws that really kills them. And when they do double, everyone on the court needs to be ready to rotate. The Cavs are a great passing team and if the defense doesn't rotate quickly they are deadly from distance.