Tag Archives: LA Lakers

Lakers

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.

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The Celtics vs. Everyone Else

So the Boston Celtics should be the best team left in the NBA playoffs, right? They won the most games this year, had the best point differential and have three experienced stars. However, they have looked far shakier than any of the other team left thus far in the playoffs. The question is why?

I think this post gets at the problem. Boston Coach Doc Rivers has never settled his team into a pattern and gotten his players to understand their roles on the team. Take any of the other teams left in the playoffs and you can immediately see what the role of almost any player on the team is.

With the Lakers, Kobe Bryant is the leader, the scorer, the creater and the crunch time performer. Pau Gasol is the second option offensively, matches up with the other team’s best big man and provides soft hands around the basket for Kobe to dish to when he drives to the hole. Lamar Odom is the third option, providing rebounding, defense and occasional scoring. Derek Fisher and Vlad Radmanovic, the other two starters, provide outside shooting and tough defense. The bench is incredibly deep, with Sasha Vujacic, Jordan Farmar, Luke Walton and Ronny Turiaf all providing the Lakers with key minutes. Everyone on the team knows exactly what their job is and they do it well.

The Pistons and the Spurs are the same way. They have leaders, in Tim Duncan and Chauncy Billups. They have their second/third scoring options down pat, in Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker and Richard Hamilton and Rasheed Wallace. They have lock down defenders in Tayshaun Prince and Bruce Bowen. They have guys who come off the bench who know exactly what their role is and what they have to do for the team to win.

Boston doesn’t have that. Who is the leader and top scoring option? Is it Kevin Garnett, the clear emotional leader? Or is it Paul Pierce, who has gotten the ball in important situations in the playoffs. Who do they go to when the game is on the line? Who is their creator, their point guard, who needs to distribute the ball to the rest of the team? Is it Rajon Rondo or Sam Cassell? What are the roles for Big Baby Davis, Leon Powe and Kendrick Perkins? Who will be on the floor at crunch time? What is Ray Allen supposed to do? Should he stand outside and look for shots, drive and create or something else all together? How does he fit in with Garnett and Pierce?

Nobody knows, not even the players themselves. One night Cassell doesn’t play in 4 straight games, then is back getting 17 minutes. They go to Garnett with the game on the line one night, then Pierce the next. Simply put, it is impossible to win an NBA Championship if players don’t know their roles. If the Celtics somehow pull it off this year it will be a miracle. They will have triumphed due to their shear talent and defensive abilities and in spite of their coaching. If the Celtics don’t win it all this year, Doc Rivers probably has to go. He had all season to get this team ready to go for the playoffs without much pressure at all. Yet they still don’t know what they are supposed to do on the court. That just shouldn’t be acceptable for a coach.

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