The Lakers just finished up what has to be one of the most impressive runs to the NBA Finals I’ve ever seen. This year’s Western Conference was just about the best ever. LA started the season in an incredible amount of turmoil and lost their starting center in February. Their star, Kobe Bryant, has been playing since the All-Star break with a torn ligament in his finger. Yet they still managed to fight through and win the top seed in the playoffs.
Their first round opponent Denver won 50 games and was one of the most explosive offensive teams in the league. LA sped up, ran with them and just blew them out of the gym.
In the second round they faced what is probably the most physical team in the NBA bar Detroit, banged with them and took the series in a relatively easy 6 games, despite Utah’s home record, which was the best in the NBA.
Then they faced the defending champs, who had won 56 games.They fell behind by 20 in game 1. Then the Lakers, and Kobe in particular, just took over the series. Excepting the Spurs blowout in game 3, the Lakers were just plain better in every game. They were faster, more determined, played harder and were just in control.
Will the Lakers beat Boston or Detroit? It will be tough, I have to believe so. Neither of the Eastern Conference contenders have looked great in the playoffs, though both did have a better regular season record than the Laker. The difference in my mind will be that neither of them will have any way to guard Kobe. It could be a tough series, but LA has just been so good since they got Gasol in February that I can’t really imagine them losing.
One thing the playoffs have done thus far is to obliterate the thought that anyone other than Kobe is the best player in the NBA. Yes, he may no longer put up the best statistics in the league, but he is utterly unguardable when he wants to be. Throughout the playoffs Kobe has just gone off every time his team needed him to. With a torn ligament in his shooting hand. You can’t play off of him because he can hit the outside shot. You can’t crowd him because he will go right by you. You can’t double team him because he will invariably hit the open man. There hasn’t been an offensive juggernaut like this in the NBA since Michael Jordan. Lebron is good, don’t get me wrong. But the Celtics guarded him. Kobe can’t be stopped.
The truly frightening thing is how good this team is going to be the next couple of seasons. Kobe probably isn’t at his physical peak anymore, but it doesn’t matter. The Bulls didn’t win a title in any of Jordan’s best statistical seasons. Plus, Kobe is still only 29. Pau Gasol is 27. Lamar Odom is 28. Next season they’ll get Andrew Bynum, a 20 year old center who would easily be a 5 pick in the draft, back. That is easily the best core in the NBA. Beyond that Derek Fisher is the only LA role player who is over the age of 30. Twenty-Eight year old Luke Walton is the oldest of the rest of the contributors. Jordan Farmar is only 21.
The Lakers will easily have 5 more years to play together before anyone but Fisher begins to seriously decline. To put it in context, the 91-92 Chicago Bulls, Jordan’s first title team, had 4 key contributors who were at least 30 and only one under the age of 25.
Thats not to say these Lakers will walk away with the next several championships. They certainly have as good a shot as a team ever has, but at a minimum the Hornets, Jazz and Trail Blazers will be formidable competitors, as will the Cavaliers, Bulls and Celtics in the East. But these Lakers have a chance to be scary, scary good.