Season Series: Lakers 3-1
The Los Angeles Lakers are not just a good team, they are a great team. Probably not the first time you’ve heard this considering they are the defending NBA Champions but I could care less about last year. I am talking about this year. Through-out the season and in the first round of the play-offs, Kobe Bryant has been battling injuries and ailments, whether it be a sore shoulder, broken finger or stiff ankle but something has been seeming to hold Kobe back at times this year when in the past, it’s been his time to shine. When Kobe is hurting and his game is suffering because of it, the entire team steps up and plays better in order to get the win. Good teams win but great teams find ways to win and the 2010 Los Angeles Lakers always can find a way to win. They have the best (Lebron admitted) basketball player in the world with Kobe and when the Lakers organization brought in Pau Gasol, it gave Los Angeles questionably the best one-two punch in the NBA. Even with a championship under their belt and knowing how good Ron Artest was in last years playoffs, the Lakers went out and picked up Artest, which has allowed Kobe to focus more on offence (when not injured), while Artest guards the other teams best player. Throw in the the starting center Andrew Bynum and sixth-man Lamar Odom and you’ve got yourself a recipe for back-to-back championships. Those five players can not only win basketball games but can lead the Lakers through the entire playoffs and one thing to keep in mind is that I haven’t mentioned the veteran presence of Derek Fisher, who came back to L.A. after his daughter was diagnosed with a disease that could only betreated in at a specific Los Angeles hospital. You can bet your bottom dollar that not only did the Lakers take him back with open arms considering the circumstances but at the same time were happen to have Fisher join the team giving them the extra push. And not that either of them by any means play a big roll but even Farmar and Adam Morrison can do a little damage at times.
The Lakers opened up the playoffs against the Oklahoma City Thunder and in summary, I dubbed it the “Kobe-Durant Show” and unfortunately it wasn’t even close to that. Kobe, ailing from injuries (even though he put up 39 in game two), has sat back and allowed Gasol and Bynum to the dirty work down in the paint as game one’s victory can be credited to the stellar play of Bynum and Gasol down low. Something that might interest you to know is that both Bynum and Gasol were averaging a double-double going into game six in Oklahoma City. That is insane. Together they have combined for over 30 points and 20 rebounds… are you thinking Kobe who? Nah, when Kobe needs to, you can count on him. Bryant put up 39 points in game two as the Lakers jumped to an early 2-0 lead in the series. In games three and four back in Oklahoma City, you may not have been but I was extremely surprised that the Thunder were able to come back and tie the series. In game five, much like game one, the Lakers found a way to shut down Kevin Durant and made the rest of his team score. To make a long story short… it wasn’t enough as they lost 111-87. In the final game of the series, the Lakers weren’t going to allow a game seven and wont 95-94 on a last second tip in by Gasol on a Kobe miss, leaving the Thunder looking towards next season. In the write-up for the other series below, I state that the West in by far the best conference as far as skilled teams and competitive basketball but I think they Lakers match up much better against Utah, than they would have the Nuggets. As talented as the Jazz are, the Lakers and Phil Jackson will find a way to win. I have much more confidence taking Kobe, Gasol, Bynum, Odom, Artest and Fisher and Jackson coaching, than I do going with the other side of the court (Boozer, Williams, Kirilenko and Miles with Sloan coaching). EXACTLY my point. As great as Utah played against Denver… the Nuggets are not the defending champs… and either are the Jazz. If I’m alone in thinking the Lakers have a great match-up here, comment below and bring it to my attention but before you do, consider the following … 1) are you a Kobe hater? 2) are you drunk? … because I’ve been wrong before, but this is one time I certainly won’t be.
I may be underestimating the talent of the Utah Jazz, but one thing I am not underestimating is the advantage the Lakers have in the series which I’ll get to more in a moment. As for Utah, they looked great taking care of the Carmelo Anthony lead Denver Nuggets. It wasn’t overly about stopping the Nuggets on the defensive side of the ball but more about Denver’s inability to put the clamps on Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer. Both men averaged over 40 minutes per game in round one and took full advantage of every second by combining for approximately 50 points per game. Behind the dynamic duo of Williams and Boozer, you’ve got a solid core with Paul Millsap, C.J. Miles and Wesley Matthews who themselves put up over fourty a night. That’s pretty impressive if you ask me. A teams top five players combining for 90+ points with Kyle Korver and Mehmet Okur still being able to come into the game is scary. The one thing I like about the Jazz, is they are fun to watch. I’ve mentioned it before (and I will again) but during the Chicago Bulls – Utah Jazz rivalry in the 90′s, I hated watching the Jazz. Stockton and Malone’s style of basketball was so boring compared to Jordan and Pippen. Boozer and Williams bring a edge to the Jazz that at some point in their career may just win them a championship but it’s not going to happen this year. As much as Jazz fans are hating me right now, I’ll apologize in advance but they need to realize a couple things. Yes, they have a solid starting five but I am not confident with their bench they slightest bit and more importantly, they were 21-20 on the road this year and even though the Lakers were 23-18… four of the seven games are in Los Angeles and the Lakers have a better chance than the Jazz of stealing a game on the road.
If you look at the teams in the Western Conference, there are teams like Utah and Oklahoma City who will only beat you with their starting five. At the same time, you have teams like Phoenix (who can put up 55 points with the bench in a game) or the Lakers who can sub in Odom for Gasol, Walton for Artest, Brown for Fisher and Vujacic for Bryant… with Adam Morrison still on the bench. The 6th-man bench advantage goes to the Lakers. At point guard, as great as Derek Fisher is, clearly he is no Deron Williams but move to the shooting guard and you have Kobe Bryant for the Lakers, and Wesley Matthews for the Jazz. Kobe will beat Matthews like he is his red-headed step-child… just saying’. C.J Miles pairing up against Ron Artest. Do you seriously want to know the answer to this question? The Lakers picked up Artest for his defence which is next to none and C.J. Miles is a nobody compared to Artest. Now it gets interesting with Boozer vs. Gasol and for argument sake we will call it a tie, Gasol is amazing but Boozer can put up 20 points and 20 rebounds but there is no question Bynum is head and shoulders above Kyrylo Fesenko (who? yeah, exactly my point). With all of that said, the starting five advantage goes to the Lakers, easily. One advantage that can’t be argued in the home-court advantage that the Lakers have and the Jazz can steal home-court by winning one of the two first games (which is possible) but the Lakers will rebound back as they always seem too by winning in Utah. Last but not least, and something else you can’t argue is coaching. Jerry Sloan is a good coach, heck he is a great coach… but he is no Red Auerbach Phil Jackson. Every advantage goes to the Lakers but with how hard it is to win on the road in the NBA, there is no way the Lakers can sweep the Jazz. Expect the series to go six games, and if you’re right pissed off (Utah Fans…) feel free to leave a comment but hopefully it has some edge to it… Malone.
San Antonio Spurs
Season Series: Phoenix 2-1
The Phoenix Suns could have finished anywhere between third and fifth and at the end of the regular season, they were able to bust of two huge wins against Denver (123-101) and Utah (100-86) and ultimately passed both of them in the standings which forced the Nuggets and Jazz to face off against each other. The way the NBA is set up with a bracket style playoff (much like NCAA) instead of best-seed playing worst-seed remaining (like the NHL), made it so the winner of Utah-Denver would have to face the winner of the Lakers-Thunder series… in essence, the Suns gave themselves the privilege of not having to play the NBA defending champions. As nice as that is, the West is so stacked with great teams (a record of 50-32 was enough for 8th place in the West, while in the East, the Bulls stole the last playoff berth at 42-42), its not much of a privilege. I’d love to say the Suns lucked out by having San Antonio knock out Dallas but this is the way of the West, the only thing that a team is to be thankful for is that they made the playoffs. From there forward, no team should be happy with who they have to play because if you underestimate any of these teams remaining, they will show you the exit quickly. In game one of the series against Portland, while all other high seeds won their opening game, the Suns took it easy and Portland slapped them around and stole home-court advantage. Realizing you can never take a game off in the playoffs, they came back and dominated games two and three with back-to-back, 19 point victories. Jason Richardson combined to put up 71 points in the two games and was a large factor in the blow-out victories. In game four, Brandon Roy returned for Portland it uplifted the team enough to help the Trailblazers tie the series at two-games a piece. As the series traveled back to Phoenix, the Suns found their way by once again winning by once again a difference of 19 points in a 108-89 victory on their home court. In the final games of the series (in Portland), Phoenix took control from the get go and never looked back and no matter how hard the Trailblazers tried to make a comeback, the Suns kept on pulling away.
Since the Suns got rid of Shaq and decided not to trade away Amare Stoudemire, not only have the Suns looked better, but Amare has shown Phoenix why it was so important they held onto him. Not only that, but Channing Frye has helped the Suns down in the paint and the Amare-Frye connection has done something in Phoenix that Shaq never seemed to bring, and it’s the ability to take pressure off of one of the best point guards in the game, Steven Nash. Nash quarterbacks him team and although he isn’t the superstar he used to be when he was winning MVP awards, he still leads a Phoenix team with a group of talented ballers. Through the series, Richardson has shown he can put up a whack of points, Stoudemire is a threat on offence as well as defence, Nash is Nash (no better way to put it), Grant Hill has brought his veteran presence and they have skilled players who can come off the bench and the Suns don’t loose as much fire power as their counter-parts. Having a big-skilled man on your team is important, and Duncan might be the Suns achilles heal but having a vast group of players who provide extreme depth holds weight. Channing Frye, Jared Dudley and Leandro Barbosa can all chip in enough to help their teams win games (as seem in game five when the bench put up 55 points) and even if some of them started a little slow in this years playoffs, if they start to click and get hot…. watch out. Personally, I think it comes down to this; the Spurs have a group of players who they count on to win them the game and if one or two of them is having an off night, the Spurs will generally loose. The Suns have a group of players that when one or two players isn’t holding their own, the rest of the team picks up the slack. With the additions of Jefferson and George Hill, the Spurs are trying to have both ‘the big three’ superstar fire-power in which many teams possess with a solid group of players of the bench to back them up. If it’s works, the Suns may have a harder time stopping the core of the team instead of Duncan.
When I took the San Antonio Spurs to loose against the Mavericks, the reason I did was because of the great basketball Dallas was playing towards the end of the season but all those wins and the 96-89 win over the Spurs meant nothing once the series started. San Antonio gave you an idea of why they have one three championships since 2003 and this year will be looking to capture their fourth and by the way they’re playing… it’s extremely possible. After dropping game one in Dallas 100-94 (a game in which Nowitzki score 34 points) but two nights later, big Timmy Duncan gave Dirk a little lesson in fundamentals when he scored 25 points with an astonishing 17 rebounds. Also, Richard Jefferson chipped in 19 to give the Spurs the edge they needed in a 102-88 beat-down. Not only did the Spurs ride the momentum of stealing home-court advantage but they went back to San Antonio and won back-to-back games taking a three-to-one lead in the series, which could have been predicted but no one imagined it’d happen… at least not that quick. Games three and four were closer victories than than the Spurs game two victory was which is odd considering they were on their home court but in the third game, and in game three it was Manu who stole the headlines. When Ginobili came back in the third quarter after getting his nose broken by an elbow, he managed to score 11 of his 15 points in the 4th quarter helping the Spurs grab a 2-1 series lead. I was once told ‘whatever part of you is injured, is a long way from your heart’. Couldn’t be more true. Even though Duncan and Parker combined for 48 points, it was simply Manu being Manu that helped them win. As game four approached, San Antonio knew the Mavericks would be giving 100% percent with their season on the brink and even though Dallas shut down Parker, Manu and Duncan, they couldn’t stop 2nd year point guard George Hill as he netted 29 points. Calling the Spurs talented is an understatement. With their backs up against the wall, Dallas came out and played solid ball on their home court and stole game five largely in part to the 35 points Caron Butler had but game six was all the Spurs who dominated all night winning 97-87 and clinching the series sending the number two seed packing.
As stated above, the Spurs are a team with star power and experience and when needed, they know how to pull the trigger in order to win important basketball games. The loss of Bruce Bowen (traded before retiring last year), who is questionable the best defensive player ever to play the game, has hurt San Antonio but don’t kid yourself, the addition of Richard Jefferson at the same time has improved them. Many people hear the team ‘San Antonio Spurs’ and their first thought is Eva Longoria… man she’s hot… No, seriously though, people think of the Spurs ‘big three’ in Duncan, Manu and Parker but many people who don’t follow the Spurs closely when they see Jefferson in a Spurs uniform, tend to do a double take. Jefferson isn’t even one of the biggest assets on the team though and don’t get me wrong, the ‘big three’ runs the show in San Antonio but second year point guard George Hill has come in and done the best job any player on an already talented squad. No player can replace Bowen defensively but Jefferson and Hill have absolutely replaced him on the offensively side of the ball. Also, keep in mind Parker and Hill can switch back and forth and give each other much needed rest to keep each other fresh. I am not surprised the Spurs beat the Mavericks, I didn’t think they would due to Dallas NBA-best road record, and i’d be way more shocked if Portland beat Phoenix or the Lakers lost to Oklahoma City. Both could have happened though as the teams who made the playoffs in the Western Conference make the playoffs way more interesting to watch than the series in the East. Any team in the West could win it all this year and with eight of the last eleven NBA Champions reigning from the Western Conference (four by Lakers, four by Spurs), I wouldn’t bet against it…. They have shown by beating Dallas, that they can play with any team and as much as their hands are full with the the talented Suns, again, don’t bet against it. Gregg Popovich knows what it takes to win and if you think he doesn’t have the ammunition in order to pull the trigger… stop fooling yourself.
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About the Author: TheCoach knows his stuff. Now you can either utilize the knowledge, or regret that you didn't.