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Friday, December 19, 2008

Odom should return to the starting lineup

Lamar Odom's good game as a starter in the Lakers' last game against the New York Knicks should convince Phil Jackson to go back to their starting lineup last year with Odom on power forward slot, and Pau Gasol moving back to the center spot while Bynum comes off the bench. I think their strongest lineup is the Fisher-Bryant-Ariza-Odom-Gasol combination, and Coach Phil knows this--he keeps them at the end of close games.

According to, this unit is their most productive combination that produced 1.21 points per possession and only allowed 0.95 opponent points per possession. Also, this starting lineup would maximize the effectiveness of Bynum on defense by keeping him out of early foul troubles and spread the floor on offense to allow Bryant to play his best game--attacking the rim and take higher percentage shots or get fouled and take free-throws--instead of taking too many long outside shots early in the game. It's hard to attack the lane if you have a 7-footer teammate in the low-block (Bynum) and another fellow 7-footer in the high-post (Gasol).

But I think Jackson is sticking with his current starting lineup because he's preparing the team for Boston Celtics. It's obvious that their strongest unit lacks the defensive force for the Celts, as they experienced in last year's finals. They need Bynum to matchup with the Perkins of Boston pound-for-pound and protect the paint, which Lamar or Pau couldn't do in last year finals.

But Phil might be overdoing it. By sticking with their current lineup, they may be sacrificing their overall effectiveness that made them the favorites to win the championship early in the season. Their current starting unit with Bynum and Walton in the lineup only makes 1.09 points while surrendering 1.00 opponent points per possession. Their previous starting lineup with Radmanovic and Bynum had a 1.11/1.05 record.

I believe the key to the continued development of the team is by doing what the other top two teams in the league, the Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers, are doing--try to dominate the opposition in every game by letting your best players play their best games. See how the Cavaliers are dominating their opponents by letting Lebron James play his dominating attack-the-basket and play-above-the-rim game and still make the team better?

At this point, all players in the Lakers team have regressed from their last year's performance. Only Trevor Ariza has better stats. And that's mainly because he wasn't playing much last year. Everyone wonders why Kobe Bryant usually struggles with his shots early in the game. Isn't he taking too many low-percentage jump shots? Is there something wrong with him? As Phil Jackson correctly pointed out, "there's nothing wrong with him." There's something wrong with his team--specially with their starting lineup.

Kobe was very effective last year playing with two quick front court players in Pau and Lamar and two spot-up wing players, Derek and Vlad, who can make 3-point shots. He can drive and drop to the post or kick out to the wing for long bombers. Gasol and Odom also are effective feeding each other alternating in the high and low post. That unit was very effective it earned Bryant his first MVP trophy! Unbeatable, the basketball analysts used to say.

Why would you change a very effective, high-octane, running-on-all-cylinders, like-a-Ferrari-sports-car unit that cruised through the insanely competitive western conference playoffs just last year? Not even the other most dominant team of this decade, the San Antonio Spurs, were able to figure out how to put the brakes on them. Because the Celtics locomotive run over the Lakers 12-cylinder engine and beat them in six games in the Finals?

Well, the Lakers are not playing them until December 25, right? And they'd only be racing with that massive steam-engine train called the Celtics for only one more time next year. In the meantime, please give us back the Lakers that the fans love and opponents feared so much. Just twink it a little by replacing a slower Radmanovic with the faster and more defensive-minded Ariza. Give Andrew his minutes. He's too good to warm the bench and his contributions will be critical against teams like the Celts and Cavs. But allow our team to start full-throttle by putting our best players to start the vaunted Lakers Engine and try to dominate the competition early in the game.

If you do that, Coach Phil, the Lakers sports car will jump over the Celtics train in June.

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