Season Series: Lakers 3-1
The Los Angeles Lakers want to re-peat as NBA Champs and they’ll settle for nothing less. You can see it in the way the entire team is playing as a group and the road to the NBA Championship travels through Kobe-Land (for many reasons). Not only do the Lakers have the best record in the Western Conference, but are the defending Western Conference and NBA Champions, they have the best starting five in the NBA and also the best 6th man in Lamar Odom. Argue it all you want, but you are wrong, and many people outside the Lakers fan base will even agree with me. Kobe has been banged up in the playoffs so far but his teammates have shown why the Lakers are the best team in the NBA. Pau Gasol is averaging approximately 20 points per game, while bringing in over 12 rebounds and averaging more blocks than he did in the regular season. Speaking of blocks, Andrew Bynum is an animal. Yeah, he too is battling injuries but even with injury problems, the guy is almost averaging a double-double himself. Pull him out of the game, and slide in Lamar Odom who as I said, is the best 6th man in the NBA and is deserving of the 6th-man award this year, and every other year he’s come off the bench. Odom is still coming off the bench on an EXTREMELY talented squad and is questionable one of the most pivotal parts of the Lakers team. A lot of players would jump ship for another team they could start for, but Odom knows what’d he be leaving, he may never get again. Kobe is by far the most important and the team is built around him, but Gasol is clutch every night (as seen in round one when he tipped in the Kobe miss in the dying seconds to win the game), and is a seven-footer who brings size and strength. Ron Artest was the only player last year who gave Bryant any problems defensively and what did the Lakers do? Well, when Trevor Ariza left, they went out and got the only player who could (maybe) stop Kobe. I’ve said it many times but this allowed Kobe to focus more his offensive game and leadership, while Artest took on defending the opponents best player. Even Derek Fisher is an important part of the team as a veteran who can keep the team grounded as well as be a rock carrying the ball up the court.
There is no reason why the Lakers can’t repeat as Western Conference Champions. The West is the best conference in sports with teams having to win over sixty percent of their games to make the playoffs but the Lakers are showing the world why they’re the best team in the NBA. Teams like Dallas, Portland, Oklahoma City and Denver who lost in the first round are head-and-shoulders above the teams in the East who got beat out (Milwaukee, Chicago, Charlotte, Miami). The fact that Los Angeles can year-in-year-out dominate in the Western Conference is impressive and some teams loose their edge when they’ve already brought home the hardware. They don’t find it as much fun anymore because they already earned the ultimate prize. Don’t group the Los Angeles Lakers in that category because they will play hard nosed, gritty basketball for 48 minutes and leave their opponents blue in the face. Cover Kobe, Gasol scores… double team Gasol, he finds Bynum. Play zone, Kobe, Odom and Fisher will drain trifecta’s. Hmm, nothing seems to work for anyone defensively, maybe teams should change their strategy. Nope, that won’t work either. Try to dangle Artest, hel’ll steal the ball… go in for a dunk, and one of the Lakers studs will give up his body and take the charge, or you could shoot jump-shots… and get blocked over and over again by Bynum and Gasol. Regardless of what the Suns try to do, they are screwed. You can have one of the best point guards in the game with Nash, a dominate presence down low with Stoudemire, and veteran leadership from Grant Hill but no matter how much they do, it won’t be enough. Kobe haters, hate on, Lakers fans, sit back and enjoy.
The Phoenix Suns have played out-standing basketball thus far in the 2010 NBA playoffs. After taking care of Portland in six games, they moved forward and gave San Antonio a slap in the face right after the Spurs had just been dominant in a series against the Mavs. Many expected the Spurs to carry the momentum and do what they’ve done in previous years and beat the Suns but Amare, Nash and company had something completely different in mind. In game one, it was Steve ‘Kid Canada’ Nash who put up 33 points and 10 assists, earning the double-double and quarterbacking his team to an 111-102 victory. Nash’s play enabled his teammates Stoudemire and Richardson to combine for 50 points as all eyes were focused on Nash. Game two was the same outcome (Suns victory) but different as six of the Suns players put up ten or more points and the steady play from the bench, as well as shooting the lights out from beyond the arc in the final quarter pushed the Suns ahead late in the fourth. With Amare, Nash and Richardson all playing strong and the bench kicking it up a notch as well, the Suns were simply to much for San Antonio. In games three and four, everyone expected with home-court advantage, the Spurs could even up the series. In game three that certainly wasn’t the case, as yet again the Suns prevailed with a 110-96 spanking. Who would have thought after three games, the team who just busted a nut all over Maverick Nation would be facing the chance of getting swept on their home court. The Spurs would have to take game four right? They were looking good until the Suns did what they do best. Nash killed in the 4th quarter with a mangled right eye and finished with 20 points (he player the entire quarter when he normally rest the first couple minutes), Amare had 29, while Dudley chipped in for 16 coming off the bench. Sweep, check. The problem is the Lakers are hot of a sweep of Utah.
There is a vast amount of talent on the Suns squad and Phoenix fans should be awfully thankful that the Suns didn’t trade away Stoudemire before the deadline. If Stoudemire had of left, not only would Phoenix be in a different position they are, but they could have very well been playing the Lakers in the first round as an eighth seed. Stoudemire is a huge part of this team, as through-out his entire career he has averaged just shy of a double-double. Unfortunately for Amare, the double-double has eluded him, but the Suns can count on him for consistently put up 20+ points per game with just shy of ten rebounds. Having a player who can guarantee those stats night-in-night-out can’t be replaced easily. Next, you’ve got Nash, who I am the first to admit, isn’t what he was a few years back (when he was winning MVP awards) but he can explode statistically any night as well as any point-guard in the game. Add Jason Richardson, who can single handily take over a game if he has a hot hand and you’ve got a great core that has taken Phoenix deep into the playoffs. Grant Hill adds a veteran presence that they have been missing in years past but none of the players named thus far are as important going into this season against the Lakers as a player yet to be named. If the Suns want to stand a chance with the Lakers, not only are they going to have to continue putting up 100+ points per game, but they’ll need Channing Frye to play the best basketball of his young career. Phoenix picked up Frye due to his defensive minded style of basketball and they’ll need him playing superb ball against Gasol, Bynum and Odom. In all honestly, the Suns stand about as much of a chance as the Jazz did… none. Not only are they going against the defending NBA Champions, but a team who has a veteran point-guard handling the ball, a star playing who can put up 30+ every night, and an endless supply of big men who can be subbed in an out, not only giving each other a rest but wearing the opposing team down. They lost three of the four games in the season series and were outscored 434-400 in the four contests against Los Angeles. I’d love to see Nash and company move onto what they truly deserve but there is a reason the Lakers are the defending champions…. they’re the best team in the NBA. Period.
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