With the Lakers and Nuggets preparing in Los Angeles for their playoff opener Sunday and the Clippers getting in one more practice at their own facility before heading to Memphis, Saturday presented the rare opportunity to check in on three playoff teams in the span of a few hours.
Granted, it wasn’t as fun as covering playoff games in two cities on the same day, but there was plenty of insight to be gleaned within just a few square miles on the West side of Los Angeles. Here are three takeaways.
George Karl is ready to rework the NBA’s conventional wisdom.
Of course, that's a battle he's always ready to fight. Rarely is the difference between traditional and upstart as strong as it is in this Nuggets-Lakers matchup, though.
“I think the mentality in the league has always been the big guy wins and in a playoff game the rebound becomes more powerful, the paint becomes more powerful,” Karl said. “But ... we’ve been in the top five [in points in the paint] ever since I’ve been in Denver. We’re not going to stay away from the basket, we’re just trying to get there in a different way.
“Before I came to Denver, even when I was in Milwaukee, I [felt], ‘Why do you try to win like the best teams try to win, when you can’t get the best players in Milwaukee, you can’t get the best players in ... ?’ So why wouldn’t you that might draw really good players, playing fast (and players like to do)? And I just think you can. Everybody said Phoenix, a couple of years ago was close. I think we were close when we had Melo. And I think someone’s going to break through the mystery that ‘Everybody says you can’t do it.’
“This is like the ultimate test, because two of the five best big guys in basketball we will be playing against.”
Those would be Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, which brings me to the next point.
Andrew Bynum is dying to be The Man in these playoffs.
Bynum had a succinct summary of the Lakers’ path to victory: “Slow the game down, go inside, make them play half court.”
And when he says “go inside”, I don’t think he’s suggesting they run more plays for Pau Gasol.
He realizes he’ll be seeing a slew of double-teams. They’ve given him problems throughout the season, but he insists he’s figuring out his counter-moves.
“I’m getting a lot more touches, a lot more sights against it,” Bynum said. “When they do double-team me, sometimes I do put the ball down and turn baseline -- which I’m not going to do. Face up, move the basketball, duck it on the backside.”
The only way for the Lakers to dictate tempo is to execute well offensively. It’s a lot tougher to run off made shots ... even missed layups by the big men can be better than errant 3-point shots.
As Karl said, “I think it’s how well they play offense and how well we play defense. Whoever gets to that area is going to have an advantage.”
Said Bynum: “I’m ready for everything ...
“We’re well aware that we need to come out here and make a statement in the first game. We need to win it in a big way.”
Blake Griffin might have figured out how to approach the playoffs, before he played in his first playoff game.
Not surprisingly, much of the questioning directed at Griffin was about his first trip to the postseason. He did his best to answer, with more inflection in his voice than usual.
“It’s not just another game,” Griffin said. “Obviously the playoffs are kind of another level, but I can’t see myself being extremely nervous for it. I’m kind of just excited.”
He got a good test in the Clippers’ next-to-last game in Atlanta. With the Clippers needing a win to get the No. 4 seed and Atlanta fighting for home-court advantage in the first round as well, unleashed everything in his arsenal, hitting jumpers from a variety of spots, even knocking down that inconsistent jumper of his. He made eight of his first nine shots and finished with 36 points. And he learned something in the process.
“I was just aggressive,” Griffin said. “I didn’t hesitate. For me, it’s a matter of becoming more consistent with that mindset. I look to build on it.”
He certainly has the tools.