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Lakers vs. Nets

Scouting Report

June 05, 2002|Tim Brown

STARTERS

This amounts to one MVP candidate, Jason Kidd, against two, Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant. Kidd has averaged a near triple-double in the playoffs--19.3 points, 8.9 assists and 8.4 rebounds. His outside shot might have deserted him, but he is perhaps the most versatile and brightest court presence in the league. Kerry Kittles starts with Kidd in the backcourt, and Kenyon Martin, Todd MacCulloch and Keith Van Horn start up front. Martin, a gritty defender, has temper issues. He was suspended five times in the regular season but has kept his composure in the playoffs. MacCulloch, signed as a key free agent last summer, has a mid-range jump shot and six fouls to spend on O'Neal. Van Horn has a reputation as a soft player but has made some shots in the playoffs. In the conference finals against the Boston Celtics, for instance, he made nearly 40% of his three-pointers. O'Neal and Bryant get occasional help from Robert Horry, Rick Fox and Derek Fisher.

Edge: Lakers.

BENCH

The Lakers have a bench? You wouldn't have known it by the conference finals, in particular Game 7, when Phil Jackson played his starters for 236 of a possible 265 minutes. At least one of those 29 leftover minutes was for Bryant to change into new shorts. Lindsey Hunter's on-ball, end-to-end defense got him on the floor against San Antonio's Tony Parker and Sacramento's Mike Bibby, and will again against Kidd. Devean George has had his moments as an offensive rebounder but has made only 30% of his shots and has been prone to fouling. Power forward Samaki Walker, a starter in the regular season and into the conference semifinals, has seen his playing time dwindle as the playoffs move on. He has a bone bruise on his left knee, which has limited his mobility. Brian Shaw has his usual calming influence on the offense. Byron Scott depends on Lucious Harris, a versatile 6-foot-5 player who has averaged 9.1 points in the playoffs, burly Aaron Williams and athletic Richard Jefferson in the frontcourt, and Jason Collins at center. MacCulloch starts but is averaging only 19.4 minutes in the playoffs.

Edge: Nets.

OFFENSE

The Nets run the Princeton offense, similar to what the Sacramento Kings employed, only better, in some regards. The Kings frequently broke away from their ball movement and back cuts to attack the Lakers with high screen-and-rolls by Mike Bibby and Chris Webber. Kidd is a better passer than Bibby but doesn't shoot as well. So, he concentrates harder on getting his teammates the ball. In the regular season, when they shocked the league on their way to 52 wins and the Atlantic Division title, the Nets had four players--Martin, Van Horn, Kidd and Kittles--who averaged 13-15 points. Of them, Kidd perhaps is the least dependable shooter. The Lakers run on O'Neal and Bryant, who in 15 playoff games have combined to average 53 points, about what they averaged in the regular season. They finally got some consistent help in Game 7 of the conference finals, when every starter scored at least 13 points.

Edge: Lakers.

DEFENSE

The Nets held their three playoff opponents to 41.9% shooting. In the Eastern Conference finals, they found ways to keep Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker well below their season shooting percentages. In six games against the Nets, the Celtics shot 38.6% and scored 92.7 points a game, nearly four points off their regular-season average. The Nets will have their largest defensive issue at center, where MacCulloch, Williams and Collins will deal with O'Neal, who is too large and quick for any of them, assuming his arthritic toe is sound. It is possible the Nets will send the stronger Martin at Bryant and have Kittles defend Fox at small forward. The Lakers caught up to San Antonio's Parker but never did subdue Bibby, and Bryant can't keep bailing out his point guards. That means Fisher needs to be better than he has been. For all the talk about Kidd on offense and what he did to turn around the organization, the Nets are just as dramatically better on defense, also because of Kidd, on the NBA's all-defensive first team. Bryant was on the second team. The Lakers probably will start with Horry on Van Horn and Fox on Martin, and Bryant, Fisher, Hunter and Shaw will get their turns at Kidd.

Edge: Lakers.

COACHING

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