Because strategy is often as important as talent, the team that makes the best adjustments between games usually earns the title as NBA champion. The Lakers were able to even the NBA Finals at a game apiece by coming up with different wrinkles in Game 2, and now it's up to the Philadelphia 76ers to counter. A breakdown entering Game 3:
76ERS' MOVE--Philadelphia Coach Larry Brown did an excellent job preparing his team for Game 1 on short notice, but after losing Game 2, he has a new set of problems to deal with. High on his list of changes will be devising a strategy to stop the Lakers from scoring easy baskets in their halfcourt offense.
In Game 2, the Lakers exploited the 76ers with give-and-go and pick-and-roll plays. Center Shaquille O'Neal was usually the focal point of these sets, which is why he finished with nine assists. O'Neal's size creates problems for Philadelphia defenders, especially when the Laker perimeter players are able to make sharp cuts close to his body.
In order to create problems for the Lakers, Philadelphia's off-the-ball defenders can't lose track of the player they are guarding. Too many times in Game 2 the 76ers were indecisive on whether to double-team O'Neal or stay with their man. Brown has to make sure his team has a better understanding when to aggressively trap O'Neal or leave him alone.
Offensively, the 76ers need more production from starting forwards Jumaine Jones and Tyrone Hill. This is where they miss former Laker George Lynch, who may not be much of an offensive threat but always seemed to make key plays when needed. In Lynch, Philadelphia had an athletic forward who played tough defense and was smart enough to get into open areas for shots. Too often, Jones and Hill have not looked for the ball and that's why they combined for only five points and eight rebounds in Game 2.
Brown has had success going with a four-guard lineup. It has given the Lakers problems on defensive and has limited their ability to break down defenders on offense. Look for the 76ers to possibly go with this strategy even more and pressure the Lakers to help create more open-court opportunities for Allen Iverson, who missed 19 of 29 field goals in Game 2.
LAKERS' MOVE--The best thing the Lakers did in Game 2 was take care of the ball, which led to a whopping 29 assists. And after throwing the ball away 19 times in Game 1, they also did a good job of keeping their turnovers to a minimum with only eight in the first three quarters Friday. But the Lakers appeared to tire under Philadelphia's relentless pressure, which led to eight turnovers in the fourth quarter.
The Lakers were able to outscore Philadelphia, 25-9, in transition in Game 2. Coach Phil Jackson had defenders run out at the 76ers' perimeter shooters and keep running down the court in case the shot was missed. Derek Fisher and Kobe Bryant scored several uncontested baskets this way but the key to this strategy was the Lakers' 37 defensive rebounds. They will have to continue to keep Philadelphia off the offensive boards.
Offensively, the Lakers have to continue to take advantage of Robert Horry's quickness when Brown goes to his twin towers' lineup with Matt Geiger or Todd MacCulloch at power forward. They cannot guard Horry off the dribble and when Dikembe Mutombo moves over to help, O'Neal is usually left open under the basket. A definite edge for the Lakers.
OVERLOOKED--Because of Iverson's nonstop energy, every Laker defender has to help out defensively to slow down Philadelphia's all-star guard. The 76ers are used to playing hard at both ends of the court for four quarters, but that doesn't appear to be the case with the Lakers. It's no secret that players are more prone to making mistakes when they are tired, and that has been a problem for the Lakers down the stretch in both games at Staples Center.
Jackson might have to gamble and go deeper into his bench. While Brown has not been afraid to play his reserves, Jackson has stuck with a tight rotation. Giving spot minutes to Devean George and Mark Madsen while also using Tyronn Lue and Ron Harper to help in the backcourt may help keep the Lakers fresh in the fourth quarter.