If It Bleeds, You Can Kill It

I guess technically speaking Shane Battier did most of the bleeding, but the Lakers are certain nursing a sizable wound to their egos right about now.  The underdog Rockets took Staples by storm, holding the Lakeshow to just 18 first quarter points as they set the tone for the series.

Is Crazy Pills going to shoot around 50% from three and average 7 assists for the series?  I think not.  Will Pau play like a total scrub, blowing easy rebounds and wide open jumpers?  Doubtful.  Do the Lakers continue to shoot 11% from three?  HAIL no.  But the beauty of playing in a seven-game format is that it allows a little breathing room to both teams.  That could mean that Game 1 was an abberation, a slight blemish on L.A.’s otherwise spotless road to the Finals.  Or, it could mean that the most consistent force in this series, the Rockets’ defense, will have the greatest impact.  Houston’s offense will come and go, depending on how the Lakers decide to cover Yao and lure Artest.  But though this may be the most talented offensive squad in the league, the Rockets made them look awfully uncomfortable last night.  Houston gave L.A. a quick punch in the mouth just to remind us all of the Lakers’ mortality.

I can see Aaron Brooks running circles around the Lakers’ defenders all series long.  Derek Fisher’s ability to keep up with him ten years ago would have been questionable, and Jordan Farmar’s had a hard time staying on the court lately.  That could mean an increased role for Shannon Brown, an effort defender with enough footspeed to not embarrass himself.  Otherwise, I foresee Brooks splitting double-teams, getting to the basket at will (luckily for L.A., he finishes about as well as the ball boys who may or may not outsize him), and doing all of those things that quick little buggers do on a basketball court.

I had a conversation with Graydon shortly after the Battier Fuss of ’09, and he brought up a killer point: the success of that article was the same as dubbing him a “Harvard Man.”  If you attend or graduate from Harvard, you’re sure to hear about it every time you make a mistake.  “There’s that Harvard education at work!”  Likewise, Battier will get an earful every time he commits a defensive mistake or logs a negative +/- .   I mean, he’s Shane Battier.  His middle name is practically +/- .  That is, if cyborgs constructed with the sole purpose of playing calculated, super-effective defense had a use for middle names.  I’m just warning you because Kobe scored 32 points (while sick) and Battier ended up -3 overall.  But believe you me, Shane played some solid D.  It obviously wasn’t a perfect performance, but hey — it was good enough, wasn’t it?

You can’t expect much more from Yao.  He dominated when guarded one-on-one, and either passed or spun out of the double teams.  The knee-bump with Kobe was understandably scary, and here’s hoping that there aren’t any lasting effects.  Yao is the anchor to which the Rockets’ offense is tethered, and if they’re going to pry championship hopes out of Kobe Bryant’s fingers, they need to fully embrace that mindset.  28 points on 17 shots would seem to be  a lovely demonstration of just that, but I’ll buy into a Rockets offense that consistently makes sense when I see it.  When your point guard is a shooter and you employ Ron Artest, things on the offensive end can get a little complicated.

You have to like what we’ve seen from the Rockets so far.  Yet, in spite of a miserable night from the league’s most deadly offense, the Lakers were right there in the fourth quarter.  A few made buckets for the Rockets and we’re talking about how gutsy the Lakers are (or probably just talking about how much we hate them).  Maybe Phil will set the alarm correctly next time out, the Lakers make quick work of the Rockets, and we all have a good chuckle.  The hoopla of Bynum’s injury and return diverted our attention from from even the possibility of a pitfall, but the Lakers’ road has hardly been paved for them.  If Kobe wants to make it to the promised land, he’ll need to go through the Rockets rather than flying past them.

Seth Carstens