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Time for Some Moves -- Personnel and Otherwise

April 27, 2003|LONNIE WHITE

If the Lakers are to keep their dream of four consecutive NBA titles alive, two things have to change: Phil Jackson has to start outcoaching his Minnesota counterpart, Flip Saunders; and all of the Lakers have to start playing with the sense of urgency the Timberwolves have shown.

Since getting blown out by the Lakers in Game 1, Saunders has pushed the right buttons in coaching the Timberwolves to a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series. He has put Kevin Garnett in position to be a force at both ends of the court, unleashed offense-minded Troy Hudson on the Laker point guards, and made sure that role players Anthony Peeler, Marc Jackson and Rod Strickland know their jobs.

Jackson's biggest problem is not so much tactical -- although his reluctance to double-team Garnett is extremely questionable -- but motivational. The Lakers just don't look hungry on the floor and that, combined with their lack of sharpness, might end up being their downfall.

A breakdown of Game 4:

LAKERS' MOVE -- Somehow, they have to get their heads back into the game. In Thursday's overtime loss, the Lakers failed to execute even the simplest of plays, turned the ball over 18 times and missed 14 of 36 free throws. Kobe Bryant failed at the line with 12 seconds left when the Lakers could have won the game in regulation.

Because the Timberwolves are committed to using double and triple teams against Shaquille O'Neal in the post, the Lakers need to attack the basket, once they break Minnesota's full-court pressure defense. That forces the Timberwolves' interior players to make quick decisions and opens things up for O'Neal, who struggled offensively in Game 3.

Getting to the basket, however, has proved to be a difficult task for heavy-legged veterans Rick Fox, Robert Horry and Derek Fisher, who have had trouble beating the Timberwolves' quicker players off the dribble. Expect Bryant to be more assertive in this area, but he can't do it alone.

The Lakers' lack of team speed is also an issue defensively. Too many times, the Timberwolves have scored easy baskets because of slow rotations by the Lakers. By anticipating Minnesota's moves and communicating better, the Lakers were able to rally in the fourth quarter Thursday. They need to do that for an entire game.

It also may be time for Jackson to go with his own small lineup by moving Bryant to small forward with Fisher, Jannero Pargo or Brian Shaw in the backcourt. This would help the Lakers against the Timberwolves' press and create possible matchup problems.

MINNESOTA'S MOVE -- Although the Timberwolves won with Garnett on the bench in overtime Thursday, they wouldn't have been in that position without his dominant play in regulation.

Whether he's setting screens to free up Hudson on the perimeter, knocking down baseline jump shots or spinning his way to the basket, Garnett has had his way with Laker power forwards the last two games. Don't look for that to change in Game 4.

But the Timberwolves' role players have to be ready in case the Lakers decide to start double-teaming Garnett, denying him the ball. If that happens, Wally Szczerbiak, Hudson and Peeler can't just stand on the perimeter waiting for the ball to come to them. They need to cut to the basket for possible easy baskets.

Another key will be Peeler's defense against Bryant. In Games 2 and 3, Peeler did a great job of denying Bryant the ball with his physical play. And once Bryant does have it, Peeler has been able to stay low and keep his body in front of the Lakers' leading scorer until help arrives.

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