June 04, 2009
Press conferences. Usually you're met with pablum, a coach with an agenda, or downright nonsense. With Phil Jackson and Stan Van Gundy taking the podium, though, you're compelled to listen. And react. Let's do both.
Phil takes the mic, first.
On what Orlando's two regular season victories over Los Angeles means to the Lakers ...
"We have a great deal of respect for them as far as a team. They played very well down the stretch to win these two games they played against us. Obviously [there are] mitigating circumstances, we had different people in the lineup, they had different people in the lineup, it was four months ago; but it certainly gives us a great deal of respect for them."
That's pretty significant, to me.
The Lakers more or less handled the Houston Rockets and Denver Nuggets in the regular season. Not just in terms of winning games, but by winning them pretty easily. Not the case for the Magic. Orlando has their attention.
And he's right; the lineups have changed for both teams. Keith Bogans(notes) (who saw Kobe Bryant(notes) drop 41 on the Magic on December 20th) is gone. Jameer Nelson's(notes) status and/or effectiveness is still up in the air. And the Lakers, laugh all you want, got 35 fine minutes out of Vladimir Radmanovic(notes) (24 points, four rebounds, four steals) while keeping things close in the losses.
The idea of taking care of business down the stretch is important, too. Kobe Bryant, "the best closer in the NBA," shot 4-19 in the fourth quarter in these close losses. While the Magic won both quarters, and both games.
So does that mean Kobe returns to the mean in the Finals? Possibly, but that's not what the Lakers are banking on. Or should be banking on. What they need to do is make sure the game isn't an off night away from going in Orlando's favor. That means you put it out of reach by the fourth quarter. Not enter it down a point, as was the case in both regular season losses.
This isn't to take away from Kobe by cherry picking 24 minutes of play, or to expect him to shoot this poorly again. Sometimes jumpers don't go in. And, should the Lakers get another close one in the fourth quarter, maybe make it so Pau Gasol(notes) (2-4 in fourth quarter shots in the regular season) doesn't get less than half as many shots as Derek Fisher(notes) (3-9), and 15 fewer than Kobe.
On whether or not his team is preparing for the possible presence of Jameer Nelson ...
"We haven't gotten to that level of personnel, the guard personnel, other than [Dwight] Howard being a force inside. We're still identifying it as positions, more than we are as individuals, and Jameer brings another level of game to their team, but, you know, we respect [Anthony] Johnson. Also, [Rafer] Alston, as players.
"Someone's gotta do that job for them, and, you know, Jameer's going to come in and do it. If he does he'll just bring in another specific thing that's an execution skill."
Translation? Derek Fisher can't really guard anyone, any more. If Nelson can play, and play his typical brand of ball, then we'll be in trouble. But Johnson can stay with him defensively, and Alston can free himself offensively from Fisher's grasp. We know Derek's done, but the trade deadline was last February, so there's not a whole lot we can do about it.
Was losing to Boston last year a motivating factor this time around?
"I think that at any level that once you get a taste of what it's like to be here, it's a motivating factor. Just to be standing, just to be left with that feeling of ‘we're the only ones here, and everybody else is home on vacation.'
"When you get to this level and don't win, you go home and you think about it a long time. It's something that is certainly a motivating thing for us. It's certainly pushed us."
I've lost two of these in a row, and I'm pretty sick and tired of it.
Stan Van Gundy was next. On my computer, at least.
On Orlando's perimeter-happy ways ...
"We've heard the criticism of how we play. I think that what you do from an offensive standpoint in this league is pretty much determined by your personnel, so I'm very confident that the way we play, and the shots we try to create are best for our team.
"I don't think you can sit down and say, ‘this is the style of play that wins in the NBA,' and try to replicate that. And we're sitting here tonight with the way we play."
We had Hedo Turkoglu(notes), and then my GM went out and spent over $120 million on Rashard Lewis(notes). What was I supposed to do, start Tony Battie(notes)? Or start both small forwards, and ask Lewis to bang inside like a power forward? He doesn't even bang inside like a small forward!
We shot 38 percent from behind the arc in the regular season, almost 37 percent from behind the arc in the postseason, we beat the defending champs, we beat the team with the best record in basketball handily, and we're still supposed to feel sorry about this?
Listen, I'm sorry I don't have five Dwyane Wades out there. I have three-point shooters, and asking them to do anything but shoot the shot that is the best percentage for them would make me an awful, awful coach.
On Jameer Nelson's possible return, and what it means to the team's chemistry ...
"It's not like he hadn't played with our guys, I don't worry that a whole lot, and I don't really think our guys need an emotional boost. I don't think it's going to be like a Willis Reed moment or anything. We'll just decide after [Tuesday] if playing him gives us a better chance than not playing him. It's a simple as that."
It really is. It's not as if the Magic developed this unerring sense of offensive chemistry behind Rafer Alston(notes). They were good enough to make the Finals with an above-average point guard manning the show, and they're good enough (obviously) to make the Finals with an average point man running the show.
We have to remember that this was the best defensive team in the NBA during 2008-09. They win on defense, not on point guard play. Did they bust the Lakers twice with Nelson on board? Yes, but those were also close wins that could have gone either way. If Nelson proves he can get past Derek Fisher and stay on the court for 30 minutes, than he plays for 30 minutes. If not, no biggie.
On what about the Lakers scares him the most ...
"Pau Gasol is a guy who was the go-to guy, really without a lot of help, on 50-win teams in Memphis, so he's proven he can carry teams.
"And their other personnel is great. Two big areas for us is that we have to limit easy baskets, I think the Lakers are a great passing and cutting team playing out of the Triangle, I think we have to try and limit the number of layup attempts and easy baskets they get. And I think the other real challenge for us, on the defense end, is rebounding."
Pau Gasol is awesome. I really hope the Lakers keep ignoring Pau Gasol.
Was that out loud? OK, let me mention a few things that everyone already knows about ...