Defensively the Lakers need to figure out a way on how to quickly defend the pick-and-roll. The teams that have given them the most trouble are the Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder because they run the pick-and-roll well, therefore exploiting the defensive switch. The switch is a Laker big man having to defend a guard around the three-point line, which is a situation a team never wants. Then, if there is no switch, the big man has to step up and slow down the ball handler, leaving the screener open for a shot. This is their biggest weakness on defense. Otherwise, defense is all about heart. One either plays hard or plays soft – and gets beat.
Most of the Lakers’ success will come down to heart. Are they hungry and determined enough to prove that they are still an elite team? However, they will need a few players to step their game up a little more from the regular season, and must have their stars show up to every game, or X-factors.
The X-factors for the Lakers are Bynum, Gasol, and Ramon Sessions. Bynum and Gasol are the best power forward/center one-two punch in the NBA today. They must not have lapses during playoff games like they did in the regular season. Bynum tends to get frustrated and lollygag on both ends of the court. He will miss an array of shots in a row, get beat defensively, not hustle for rebounds, and not be in the right help position on defense giving up lay-ups. Gasol on the other hand, occasionally would simply not show up for a game. He will settle for outside shots, drive to the basket and get stripped, and not play defense. These two are too important to the Lakers’ success to play soft and lackadaisical.
Now is the first time Ramon Sessions will play in the playoffs in his short NBA career, and being on the Lakers in the playoffs is like getting thrown straight into the deep end. Every team wants to beat the Lakers and bring their A-game every night. The purple and gold need him to set the tone by playing strong and confident. Defensively, Sessions needs to limit penetration from the opponent’s guards to a minimum, which is easier said than done. Offensively, Sessions needs to get the offense set quickly, run efficiently, and not be afraid to drive to the basket. When he penetrates, it leaves the big men and shooters open, allowing for easy dump-off passes for open shots. He needs to average around 13 points, six to seven assists, and less than four turnovers per game to help the Lakers be victorious.
Everyone else who plays needs to step up their game a level because it is now the playoffs, and every game matters. Matt Barnes has been playing amazing off the bench ever since the arrival of Sessions. He is knocking down outside shots consistently, playing solid defense, and his energy towards rebounding on both ends of the floor is a huge contribution. He just needs to continue what he is doing. Steve Blake needs to play like he did at the end of the last Oklahoma City Thunder game – confident. When he is confident he does not hesitate to shoot the ball when he is open and he knocks them down. He will also play passionate defense. If he plays like that he will greatly benefit his team.
Then there is Metta World Peace. He is going to have the most to prove. After receiving a seven-game suspension for the despicable elbow he threw at the Thunder’s James Harden, he will be forced to sit out the Lakers first six playoff games, weakening them on defense. He must make up for this mistake to his teammates and the fans by playing with the passion and fire he showed against the Thunder, only under control. If he plays like he did in the games Kobe Bryant missed due to his shin injury, the Lakers will be unbeatable. One might say he could be the most important X-factor for the Lakers.
It is playoff time in the NBA, and to most teams winning a series or two is a very successful season, but when you pull on that purple and gold jersey with “Lakers” stitched across the chest, it means a whole lot more. This is a franchise that has 16 NBA Championships; a franchise that is expected to win every year by its fans, so bringing anything less than 100 percent is unacceptable.
So as the Lakers kick off the 2012 NBA Playoffs Sunday at home, they will have a lot to prove that they are an elite team, and believe me, they have the talent to do it.