He's also better than ever as a playmaker. He reads defenses so well that he can be going 100 mph and still make an effective play. There's no question he's thinking to score first, but at the same time he's reading the help defense. In other words, when he's putting the ball down to go to the rim, he's saying, 'You've got to stop me, and when you do try to stop me, I'm going to make the right read' -- as opposed to the old Kobe, which was, I'm going to the basket and the only way I'm passing is if I'm flat-out stopped. He's a much more willing passer now.
At 30, he's not quite the lively athlete he used to be. I don't think he's reached the stage of
I love Kobe; he's a flat-out warrior and one of the most fierce competitors in the team concept I've ever seen. When he says winning the championship means so much more to him than winning the MVP, I truly, truly believe him. There's not even a question in my mind that he really means it.
He is a very good teammate who wants to take big shots. He won't make all of them but he'll make his share. He's not a good defensive player but he's trying much more, and he's a smart player with a very high basketball IQ. When he speaks -- like when he said they needed to get the ball inside more -- he makes a lot of good sense. He's a guy you can play in the low post, and if he's playing one-on-one, he can go score. As a coach, you can be very happy with that opportunity. If the other team is trying to be physical down there with him, he can go to the high post, and you can play through him there because he's an extremely willing and accurate passer for a big man.
Gasol became a reliable star for the Lakers this year. Last year, I think Kobe didn't believe in the guy yet, but now with Kobe playing with more maturity and Gasol being there a full year and proving himself, it has made a huge difference.
Are they better with Gasol at power forward or center? There are pluses and minuses each way. As a center, he can go out high and pull
You know Orlando is going to go right at Bynum and try to get him in foul trouble early. That's a problem for the Lakers. It would be helpful if
The key for Bynum will be to do his work early, to use his size and lower-body strength to keep Howard from getting to his sweet spots. Once Howard is where he wants to be and he's making his moves, you've just got to whack him. You'd rather see him possibly struggling at the foul line than dunking on you.
At the other end, he can make Howard work defensively because Bynum is pretty clever, and Howard has had issues with foul trouble himself. Bynum has good footwork and he's getting better. When he tries to go outside the paint, that's when he screws up the triangle and all of the spacing with the other players.
As a defender, Howard is terrific for the way Orlando has to play the ball. They keep pressure on the ball and force it to the basket, knowing that their defenders around Howard aren't going to be able to stay in front of their men the whole way. So, at some point, Howard turns into a goalie. It works well when all five are set in their defense and matched up. Obviously, he is a great shot-blocker and intimidator, but the way L.A. spaces out the defense, it's not going to be easy to funnel everything in to Howard. I don't think he's going to be the factor he was in the games against Cleveland.
You can get Howard in foul trouble by playing to his aggression. He plays so hard that it's easy for him to get off balance, and with ball fakes you can get him off his feet. Once that happens, guys know how to take advantage by bringing the ball right through his chest and making it look like a foul. You don't want to tell him to not be aggressive, but it has to be channeled and he has to be smarter.
The Magic are a good rebounding team because of him, so it's going to be interesting to see if the Lakers will be running stuff through the high post that gets Howard away from the basket -- and if they do, will Howard still be able to control the defensive boards? The guy is awesome; he's the strongest guy in the league as well as the quickest big man.
I have a ton of respect for Lewis as a guy who is a great teammate. Since coming to Orlando, he has continued to play hard and continued to be a scorer along with developing a mature understanding that he's the No. 2 guy on the team, maybe No. 3 at times behind Turkoglu, and maybe even No. 4 when
I'd like to see him be a 20-and-10 contributor on a constant basis, so it's clear that he's outproducing the winner of the
Turkoglu is going to have Ariza on him, and Ariza will be trying to fight over the screens and "show" on the pick-and-roll. The Lakers will try to use Ariza to put pressure on Turkoglu and guard him straight up. Can Ariza stay in front of Turkoglu on the pick-and-roll? I think he can. And then I'd think the Lakers would be happy if he tried to take Ariza into the post because I don't think Turkoglu is so great there.
The issues with Turkoglu are his defense and his streakiness as a shooter. But then this is a streaky team, and a lot is going to depend on how they're shooting it.
• There's no one on Orlando who can guard Kobe one-on-one. They're going to have load to the ball, which means that Fisher and Ariza are going to have to hit the open three. When Gasol's man comes off him to help defend Kobe's drives, Gasol has to go to the boards and get some put-backs.
• When Gasol is being played straight up, one-on-one, Lewis will have problems matching up with him away from the basket.
• I'm going to be interested to see who is commanding the double team, primarily in the post. What is going to be Jackson's approach defensively to dealing with Howard? Is he going to play him straight up and try to get away with it?
• In the Denver series, I was really impressed with Jackson defensively and the way his defense loaded to the ball and took away the penetrations of
• Another question is whether Orlando can take the scheme they used against LeBron -- letting him score and shutting down his teammates -- and simply apply the same thing against Kobe. And the answer to that is no. The Lakers have too many legitimate role players around Kobe. When the lights turned bright, the Cavaliers showed that their guys were lacking, but the Lakers have more scoring, and so the Magic will have to make more defensive adjustments to account for them.
• The key element in the series is which team can stay home the most on defense and avoid having to double.
• Another important aspect is going to be whether Orlando can shoot well from the three-point line. This series could be closer than people think because of Orlando's shooters. If they're hitting their threes, it could become a great series. But if they aren't ...
• While Orlando got here by winning close games in the final minute, I think Kobe is going to have the last word in those situations. If it's a close game, I like the Lakers, because that's when Kobe is the best.
Lakers in six.