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TRANSITION GAME / LONNIE WHITE

Lakers Can't Lose the Team Concept

May 11, 2003|LONNIE WHITE

Now that the Lakers have proved they haven't forgotten how to play team basketball, the question is: Can they do it again against San Antonio in Game 4?

Coach Phil Jackson and his staff deserve credit for making the necessary adjustments in getting the Lakers to play together again Friday. Using more one-on-one defense on Tim Duncan and positioning center Shaquille O'Neal in the high post for better spacing in the triangle offense helped spark the Lakers to an impressive 15-point victory in Game 3.

But expect the Spurs to be better prepared for the Lakers today, especially when it comes to small forward Devean George, who gave the three-time defending champions a huge lift with his gutsy performance Friday.

A breakdown of Game 4:

SAN ANTONIO'S MOVE -- Don't expect Coach Gregg Popovich to change too many things because he knows that some of his key players simply failed to show up in Game 3. Bruce Bowen missed his first six shots and got caught up worrying about the officiating; Tony Parker struggled to find his rhythm against tighter defense; and David Robinson was a non-factor with four points and four rebounds in 15 minutes.

Look for the Spurs to position Duncan down low and run more pick-and-roll sets involving O'Neal. This will create more room for Duncan to operate in the post and also enable guards such as Parker, Manu Ginobili and Speedy Claxton to penetrate. And if O'Neal sags into the lane as he's known to do, Robinson and Malik Rose have to be ready to make perimeter shots.

Don't be surprised if the Spurs use a smaller lineup and feature a more aggressive pressing defense. There were times Friday when the Lakers struggled to take care of the ball and San Antonio may be able to repeat what Minnesota did in the first round. But for that to happen, the Spurs must be assertive and take the play to the Lakers.

LAKERS' MOVE -- Kobe Bryant played a complete game Friday with 39 points and a dominant performance on defense.

Bryant attacked the rim whenever possible, which led to his making 17 of 19 at the free-throw line. Bryant also showed why he's a first-team All-NBA defensive player by shutting down Bowen and Ginobili. But playing defense does require an abundance of energy and the Lakers need him to put forth that same type of effort today to even the series.

The Laker team defense was good in Game 3 but still has plenty of room for improvement. Too many times, the Spurs had open lanes to the basket without a Laker stepping up to challenge. If that happens today, the Lakers may be in trouble if the Spurs are making outside shots.

In Games 1 and 2, the Spurs' supporting players had their way, but in Game 3 the Laker role players flipped the switch. Robert Horry didn't hesitate to look for his shot and did a solid job rebounding; Derek Fisher may not have had any assists but he played under control and scored 14 points in six shots; Mark Madsen was disruptive under the basket; and George made shots when open, plus played good solid position defense.

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