There’s a lot of hype around this game. It’s not just a match up of two teams, it’s also a figurative fistfight between Los Angeles Lakers’ coach Phil Jackson and Houston Rockets’ head man Rick Adelman. Three times teams coached by Adelman have been knocked out of the playoffs by a Jackson-coached club. However, neither guy will be on the court when this game is played and the fact is whatever these guys have done to get their teams to this point is all in the past. In other words, today’s win has more to do with the talent and skill on the court than the coaches on the bench. Here are five keys to each team’s success in today’s game seven.
1) With Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady out Houston has had to rely upon Aaron Brooks, Carl Landry and other members of this team. That word “team” is the essence of why the Rockets have pushed this series to a game seven. The non-super stars have defined this club through their gutsy, never-give-up play. In the playoffs, teams tend to win and not individuals.
2) Yao Ming was playing well against Los Angeles and then he went down with an injury, leaving the Rockets to play games four, five and six without him. In that time, the team won two of three. In all three games, power forward Luis Scola has stepped up to the center spot, notching three double-doubles, including a 24-point, 12-rebound game six. Apparently rookie Scola doesn’t know that he should just lie down and let the Lakers run all over him.
3) Rookie point guard Aaron Brooks has put up big numbers in the last three games and was outstanding in both wins, putting in 34 and 26 points respectively. He’s hitting 48% from the floor and 92% from the foul line. If he continues to put points on the board, it’ll be tough to stop the Rockets.
4) Upfront, Shane Battier at small forward and Carl Landry at power forward have been instrumental. Battier has been an important intimidator while Landry, a backup, contributed mightily in game six, putting up 15 points and taking down nine rebbies.
5) Veteran Ron Artest, at shooting guard, has provided stability on a team that is now without vets McGrady and Yao. In the two of the three games the Rockets won, Artest played an average of 44 minutes. In the loss, he played just 29. His presence alone on the court can help make things happen.
Los Angeles Lakers
1) Here’s the starting lineup—Kobe Bryant at shooting guard, Pau Gasol at center, Lamar Odom at power forward, Trevor Ariza at small forward and Derek Fisher at point guard. That’s one heck of a starting five. And the bench includes Sasha Vujacic, Luke Walton and Andrew Bynum. It’s a no brainer—these guys have the talent to beat anyone. But they have not been able to finish off the Rockets. Do these elite guys want it enough to take it? Has this superior team become complacent? The answer is to a degree- yes. Wake up, you guys, you’re in the middle of a “there’s no tomorrow” contest (a place you should not be). Start playing like you want to win and not like you expect the other team to lose.
2) Shooting guard Kobe Bryant is one of those players who can simply take over a game. Don’t do it. Not in game seven. Bryant needs to be dominant but he can’t be a one-man team.
3) At center, Pau Gasol has not been able to neutralize Scola. Against Houston, the Lakers’ center has seen his rate of completion from the field and foul line drop. The Rockets have done a good job of keeping him in check. He’s won his share of the rebounds, but you can’t help but think that Gasol should be winning more than his share.
4) The Los Angeles frontcourt is beat up as Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom are both dealing with injuries. They’ll have to contribute in game seven. The upfront play of Bynum, who has been nursing a knee, is essential to this club’s success and Odom’s reduced efficacy is of major concern.
5) The Lakers have to play defense. They’ve been inconsistent, unconcerned and not committed when it comes to “D.”
Will Adelman and Jackson have an effect on this game? Of course they will and when push comes to shove it will be Adelman who will have his job cut out for him due to the fact that he is Yao-less and also without McGrady. This series could come down to one or two important coaching decisions that will have a massive impact on its outcome. Still, no matter what decisions each coach makes, their players will still need to come through. The Lakers are at home and the place will be rocking which means the Rockets will have to go full throttle to win this one. Houston is playing as a team and Los Angeles is not. This could be an upset in the making. The Rockets will take a tight one.