I could tell you the Lakers need Ramon Sessions to attack and probe the paint with consistency, Barnes/Blake to knock down open shots and bring an energy/intensity on defense, or even spirited effort from a returning Metta World Peace, and all of those would technically be accurate.
We all know what needs to take place.
The Lakers need a focused and determined effort from Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. I won’t abuse each of you with the same disheartening stats we’ve seen, but the Denver Nuggets’ big men have thoroughly outplayed Bynum and Gasol during Denver’s three wins. Everyone is prone to having an off night or lull in energy, but these are the playoffs. You simply cannot display the type of apathy and carelessness the majority of the Lakers have been guilty of throughout this series.
I’ve been on record, hailing Bynum as the most talented big man in today’s game. I’ve also been championing Gasol’s ’cause’ as the best third option in the NBA. Each remain true, regardless of the outcome of Saturday’s game. Bynum, while young and immature, will still be one of the league’s budding stars. Gasol, while his toughness is constantly in question, will still be one of the more well-rounded and skilled big men. The thing is, if the Lakers were to lose this series or even eventually be swept by the rested OKC Thunder, then those facts won’t matter. Laker fans don’t want to hear it, but some major changes will be in order.
Simple as this, Gasol must wake up. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one that remembers Phil Jackson literally pounding on Gasol’s chest with two closed-fists during last year’s playoff run. Three points on 1-10 shooting with three rebounds in 29 minutes is not going to get it done. Troy Murphy played six minutes of garbage-time basketball, and collected almost as many rebounds (3>2). Gasol has made it clear he wants to be a Laker (over the course of the season), but his actions in Game 7 and however far the Lakers travel into the playoffs will be the determining factor.
The same goes for Mr. Bynum. The Lakers have yet to sign the $16.43 million dollar contract extension for next season. Regardless of where our loyalties lie, the organization has made it clear they’re not parting ways with Bryant…nor should they. His effort can never be called into question. We’ll cross that bridge as it approaches, but it is something to keep in mind.
So, what do the Lakers need for Saturday’s Game 7? Everyone wearing purple and gold must bring a maximum effort. I’m talking from Bryant/Bynum/Gasol on down to the guy serving drinks at the concession stand. I need to see the ticket-holders cracking a sweat. In fact, I need Jack Nicholson “Rondo-bumping” a referee if he makes a questionable call. I kid, partially, but that’s the type of total team effort it will take. Denver is playing with the equivalent of “house money.” Although a dangerous team, no one expected this series to go the distance. The Nuggets will bring the type of confidence and certainty that could spell doom for a Lakers squad that isn’t mentally/emotionally ready for action. Simply resting on “we play better at Staples” isn’t going to get it done.
The Lakers need to return to high-low post action with Gasol and Bynum. In order to avoid some of the double and triple teams Bynum has been encountering, you flash Bryant to the weakside (side opposite the ball), plant Gasol at the high post (NOT the 3-point line) and permit them to work the same two-man game that seems to work with a high degree of regularity. Next, Sessions must attack the paint and control the tempo of the game whenever he is on the court. Gone are the days where excuses about “comfort” and “familiarity” will be accepted. Those ‘flashes’ of brilliance need to be a steady reality. MWP must be focused, active, and balance between ‘control’ and reckless abandon. I have a feeling you’ll see Mike Brown stick MWP on Andre Miller and Bryant on Ty Lawson. It’s unfortunate, but the Lakers’ point guards simply cannot defend either of the two with any amount of consistency. The bench, whichever rotation Brown uses, must find a way to match and exceed Denver’s intensity.
Notice how I didn’t mention what Bryant must do? That’s because we already know what to expect from Bryant. He’s going to bring the same level of passion and desire as he always does. Last year, following the disappointment of the post-season, Bryant said the season had been “a wasted year” of his life. I’m not privy to what is going on in the locker room, but I’m quite certain Bryant is getting a similar message across to his guys. Let’s just hope whatever Bryant and Brown, are saying, the team can respond with a spirited effort on Saturday at Staples.