I hate to be a premature prognosticator, but David Stern should just go ahead and crown our ass; the Los Angeles Lakers will be your 2009 NBA Champions.
How do I figure?
1. The Magic have the Cavs on the ropes. The Magic. A team that struggled against a depleted Celtics team that needed seven games and 129 overtime periods to sneak by the 41-41 Bulls. I think it’s safe to say that either the Lakers or Nuggets would handle Dwight Howard and Co. with relative ease.
2. If the Magic do win the Eastern Conference Finals, and they lead the series 3-1, the Lakers would have homecourt advantage in that Finals match-up.
3. After the Lakers’ big Game Five win, the Nuggets statistically only have a 17 percent chance of winning the Western Conference Finals. Considering that the Lakers are the most talented team in basketball with the league’s best closer, I’d knock that percentage down to about 10. And I think that’s being generous. Add that Phil Jackson’s teams have won 16 of the last 17 series when up 3-2, and you can drop that down to about five percent.
4. Lamar Odom’s back is finally back to being healthy, and coincidentally he seems to have rediscovered his one-of-a-kind Swiss Army Knife game. When he plays like he did tonight, no team can beat the Lakers. This is why I think he can continue to play at a high level. He holds himself accountable.
5. The Lakers biggest weakness is the point guard position. Chauncey Billups poses a much, much bigger threat than anything out East. Rafer Alston looks pretty good now, but I think that’s more Delonte West and Mo Williams being exposed as frauds than anything else. I think the Lakers match-up better with both the Cavs and Magic than they do the Nuggets, mainly because of how much better Billups is than any PG either of those teams can put on the court.
6. Depth. The Lakers are the deepest team in the league. I think Phil Jackson rationing the stars’ minutes in the regular season is starting to pay dividends, and will pay off even more in the Finals.
As you can see, tonight was a huge win.
I honestly think this team transformed into a champion before our very eyes tonight. That run just felt special. You had Shannon Brown electrifying the Staples Center. Pau Gasol running the offense. Lamar “Candyman” Odom in full-fledged beast mode. Most importantly, Kobe Bryant had his M.J. game. You know, the game where it is rendonkulously obvious that he cares more about winning than any stat. The point where the player says, you obviously have to respect me, so now I am going to help my teammates become just as good at beating you as I am.
The play where Kobe had a wide-open three late in the fourth and decided to hit a hot Lamar Odom instead was the moment which best represented that. Sure, it was the higher-percentage shot, but I don’t think that was his only motive. Kobe’s confidence is sky high. Meanwhile, L.O. has been struggling mightily in this series. Kobe knows he will need Odom to win it all. With a substantial lead, he knew continuing to build Odom’s confidence back with an easy two was more important than his potential three.
You also saw Kobe doing similar things with Gasol. In the fourth quarter, Gasol was matched-up with Chris “Birdman” Anderson. Knowing that Bird is a great help defender who was mismatched guarding Pau one on one, Kobe told Pau to take him. He showed faith in his teammate and Gasol rewarded him with a bucket. Kobe also was smart to step back and allow the offense to run through Pau Gasol and Trevor Ariza with the two-man game on multiple occasions. Not only was the strategy wildly successful, but he will need both Ariza and Gasol in order to win a championship.
Maybe the most amazing super teammate play was when Kobe drew the defenders and kicked to a colder-than-his-native-Slovenia-in-the-Winter Sasha Vujacic for a wide-open three-pointer to end the first half. Kobe obviously has more confidence in the Machine than the Machine does at this point. This could pay off, though , and Kobe, as well as Phil I suspect (Why else would he keep playing Sasha?), knows this. After all, who knows when Sasha might have to step up and be John Paxson to Kobe’s Michael Jordan. This was a pretty big shot, so it could really help restore his confidence looking forward.
Kobe Bryant may have just lifted his teammates for the rest of the playoffs with his Magic Johnson-like performance tonight (hell, Magic even called it earlier from the studio). Sure, they will never be as good as him, but they may start to share more of both his confidence and consistency. Considering that the Lakers have a talent level that rivals the 80s Lakers, yeah, that’s a scary proposition for the Cavs, Magic and Nuggets. Like I said, crown our ass.
Tags: Chauncey Billups Cleveland Cavs Denver Nuggets Kobe Bryant Lamar Odom Los Angeles Lakers Magic Johnson Michael Jordan Nba Championship Orlando Magic Pau Gasol Phil Jackson Sasha Vujacic Shannon Brown Trevor Ariza