Monday, June 3
Updated: June 3, 12:38 PM ET
Dr. Jack's Breakdown: Nets vs. Lakers

The Matchup: New Jersey Nets vs. Los Angeles Lakers

Hall of Fame coach Dr. Jack Ramsay provides analysis for ESPN on SportsCenter and NBA Today. Here he breaks down the playoffs for Also a former color analyst for the Heat, Ramsay's impressive résumé includes making the playoffs in 16 of his 20 seasons as coach and winning an NBA title with Portland in 1977.

At point guard, Jason Kidd will battle against Derek Fisher. I would expect Kobe Bryant at some point to defend Kidd, and so will Lindsey Hunter. But Kidd is such a great player who has really stepped up his game in the playoffs, averaging a triple-double against Boston. I don't think any of the Lakers' defensive options can stop him because he has so many dimensions to his game. While they won't stop his playmaking ability, the Lakers would hope to force him into bad shooting games and then defend the other players so they don't get easy passes and lobs at the basket. The Lakers must try to minimize Kidd's game, keep him off the offensive boards and try to get the ball out of his hands. But Kidd will try to do his best job for the Nets. As a defensive player, Kidd is more of a roamer. Fisher won't beat him by himself. Kidd will double-team and try to take charges. Fisher will get some open shots, and it will be important that he knocks them down. At the two-guard, it will be Kerry Kittles trying to contain Kobe Bryant. Kittles is a good defender who did a good job on the Celtics' Paul Pierce. However, Kobe has more dimensions to his offensive game. He is not just a perimeter shooter. It's tough to defend his ability to get into the defense off the dribble. He is able to get a shot and then follow it. Plus, he is a very good passer. In Game 7 of the Western Conference finals, he had seven assists. Kobe will need to stay with Kittles on the run. Kittles has great running speed and seemed to gain confidence in his perimeter shot as the series went on. Kobe will have Brian Shaw to back him up, while Kittles will have both Lucious Harris and Richard Jefferson behind him. The backcourt battle is a push because Kidd and Kobe should dominate their respective matchups.

Starting in the middle, Shaquille O'Neal will clearly dominate. In the one game he played against the Nets this season, he scored 40 points. Todd MacCulloch did not play in the game, but he is not a great defensive stopper to begin with. I don't see how they will contain Shaq. The Nets may use their zone defense, which paid great dividends against the Celtics, and try to congest the paint. But in the past games, Shaq is playing better than I have ever seen him. At small forward, Rick Fox will go against Keith Van Horn. Fox is a tough defender and will be all over Van Horn. If Van Horn plays a perimeter game, he will have to put the ball on the floor against Fox. Van Horn may have a size advantage, but his height is not an asset because he is not a post-up player. At the big forward spot, the Nets have Kenyon Martin against the Lakers' Robert Horry. While Martin is stronger, Horry is longer and a very smart defender. Plus, he can take Martin outside and shoot 3-pointers. Shaq's presence, though, gives the Lakers a sizeable frontcourt advantage.

The Lakers have depth off the bench with Hunter, Samaki Walker, Devean George, Shaw and Stanislav Medvedenko. Nobody has played exceptionally well, but coach Phil Jackson can use them all. The Nets have good quality off the bench, with Harris, Jefferson and Aaron Williams, who sometimes provide heavy contributions. Each one has played well in particular playoff games. When Williams is on the floor in place of MacCulloch, he will take Shaq outside. The Nets will then run a lot of high screen-and-rolls with Kidd off Williams. That approach could yield some good scoring opportunities. Williams can score much better than MacCulloch and can hit the 15- to 18-foot shot, but he is undersized at 6-foot-9. In a traditional matchup, Shaq can pummel him. Nevertheless, Williams will try to take Shaq outside and create plays. Harris is a strong shooter, and Jefferson is an all-around player who is strong and quick-footed. He will see some time defending Kobe.

The Lakers' playoff experience was evident in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals. Poise won the game for them, and a lack of poise cost the Kings. Meanwhile, this is the first time the Nets franchise has reached the NBA Finals. While the experience factor heavily favors the Lakers, the Nets -- as underdogs -- are thrilled to be in the Finals and can take on an "everything to gain, nothing to lose" attitude. They can play free and easy; everything that happens for them is icing on the cake.

Lakers in six. While I believe the Nets will win a game or two, the difference will be Shaq and Kobe, the two most dominant players in the league, and the ability of the Lakers' role players -- in partcular Fox, Horry and Fisher -- to make solid contributions. And when their bench players get in the game, they don't hurt the Lakers. One thing to watch will be Byron Scott's defenses and the Nets' ability to slide from one to the other and get production. The Nets were able to shut down Pierce in the final period of Game 6 in the Eastern Conference finals -- their defense made the difference. The Nets may try the same approach against the Lakers, especially against Shaq by trying to keep him from dominating in the paint. But I don't know if the Nets will be successful because the Lakers run pretty much the same offense against any defense. The Nets will be in the game if they can keep the ball away from Shaq and get him to commit offensive fouls to limit his time on the floor.

Series Page


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