LOS ANGELES -- It's the triangle offense, now available in version 3.0.
These days, Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers offers an alley-oop Pau Gasol's way and the two can exchange roles the very next play. Luke Walton posts up, then drifts out for a 3-point shot, or Lamar Odom ducks and dives his way to the rim for enough double-doubles to fill his heart's content.
And it's the Utah Jazz's to deal with now. The Jazz topped Houston 113-91 Friday and will meet the Lakers in the second round.
Yes, the part-mystical, part head-scratching triangle offense is functioning quite smoothly with Gasol completing the Lakers' trifecta.
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Possibly more so than ... Michael Jordan's championship days under Phil Jackson?
"Since we've had Gasol, it's a very good comparison," said Tex Winter, a Lakers consultant and a pretty smart person to ask on the subject because, well, he is the offense's innovator. "It's not necessarily a guy like Kobe or Michael Jordan that oftentimes makes the difference in this. Sometimes, it is the post man or someone else."
At 86, Winter is a basketball lifer and a walking encyclopedia. He played for USC under Hall of Fame coach Sam Barry, who created the premise of the triangle offense, with Winter later smoothing its edges during his more than half a century of coaching. His coaching jobs included Marquette, Kansas State, Northwestern, Long Beach State and the NBA's San Diego Rockets. He became a Chicago Bulls assistant in 1985.
When the Bulls named Jackson their coach in 1989, he brought the triangle in to do away with too many isolation plays for Jordan. The Bulls ran it to six championships. After Jackson and Winter moved to the Lakers, the Shaquille O'Neal-Kobe Bryant teams won three titles, and the Bryant-Gasol squad is hoping to get another ring.
The triangle offense revolves around reads and reaction, rhythm and rotations. Its basic principles include penetration through ball entry at the high post, with spacing and cuts predicated off the pass.
"When you have guys (play it) with such great spacing, such good recognition, great passing, it makes the game fun to watch," Bryant said.
Winter insists the triangle offense can be absorbed quickly through practice and patience, enough so that he advises junior high school coaches to teach it. Still, many a pro has struggled grappling its intricacies.
"If it's presented to them right and if they've got some basketball knowledge and basketball savvy, some players learn it in no time and other people will never learn it," Winter said.
The Milwaukee Bucks, New Jersey Nets and Indiana Pacers use some parts of the triangle offense and the Phoenix Suns threw in some wrinkles of it after acquiring O'Neal.
But Jackson and Winter's teams have been the only ones in the NBA to run it exclusively.
The reasoning, said Craig Hodges, who played under Winter at Long Beach State, won two championships as a guard with the Bulls and is now a Lakers assistant, is partly out of pride of not wanting to duplicate another system and partly because so few know the offense enough to teach it. Skeptics note that any offense looks pretty smart with a Jordan or Bryant as its driving force.
"Their main thing is you can't use what you don't know," Hodges said. "I've seen teams complimenting Tex by using part of the system, but they'll run it more as a play opposed to running it off of reads."
But all in all, it has been a while since the triangle offense has showcased angles this right, corners this edgy.
"Our offense it still predicated on getting penetration," guard Derek Fisher said, "and having Pau Gasol helps a great deal and whether Andrew Bynum is back this season or starting up again next season, for years to come, we have guys that can be the focal point of getting the ball inside and that's when we are at our best."
JAZZ 113, ROCKETS 91, at Salt Lake City -- Deron Williams scored 13 of his 25 points in the decisive third quarter, and Utah beat Houston to win the series 4-2 and knock the Rockets out of the playoffs in the opening round for the second consecutive year.
The Jazz were determined to avoid a Game 7 in Houston, site of their embarrassing 95-69 loss in Game 5 on Tuesday. Instead, the Jazz are headed to Los Angeles and open the second round against the Lakers on Sunday.
Tracy McGrady scored 40 for the Rockets, but could not beat the Jazz by himself and fell to 0-7 in playoff series. The Rockets lost point guard Rafer Alston with a sprained ankle late in the second quarter and the offense never recovered. Modesto Christian graduate Chuck Hayes has two points and two rebounds in 17 minutes.
CAVALIERS 105, WIZARDS 88, at Washington -- LeBron James had his second career triple-double (27 points, 13 rebounds and 13 assists) to help Cleveland win its series against Washington in six games. It was the third consecutive season that the Cavaliers eliminated the Wizards -- each time the series ended in Washington.
HAWKS 103, CELTICS 100, at Atlanta -- The playoff team with the worst record did it again to the team with the best mark. Atlanta (37-45 in regular season) forced an improbable Game 7 with Boston (66-16) when Joe Johnson hit a crucial 3-pointer with 1:07 remaining. Marvin Williams led the Hawks with 18 points despite missing much of the fourth quarter with a sprained left knee.
TIP-INS -- It took 12 seasons, but Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant has finally been selected the NBA's most valuable player, the Los Angeles Times has learned. Sources familiar with the outcome who were not authorized to speak publicly about the award until the official announcement from the league said Commissioner David Stern will be in Los Angeles next week to present the trophy to Bryant. ... Former Indiana University coach Kelvin Sampson has agreed to become a Milwaukee Bucks assistant under Scott Skiles, a person with knowledge of the hiring told The Associated Press.