Shaquille O’Neal made headlines in the latest Los Angeles Lakers news when he proclaimed that the three-peat Los Angeles Lakers would have beaten Michael Jordan’s Bulls.
This took the NBA world by storm. Michael Jordan’s Bulls are one of the greatest, if not the greatest, NBA teams of all-time and held the all-time wins record until the 2015 Golden State Warriors came along.
Most NBA reporters and analysts are erring on the side of not picking a side, simply stating that it would have been a great series and definitely would have been a tough matchup.
It would have been extremely fun to watch, but I have a definitive stance on the matter.
Lakers news: Shaq is right. Lakers in six.
Now, “easily” beaten the Chicago Bulls is a subjective word. I don’t see a reality where Michael Jordan gets swept by any team in the NBA Finals and because he is Michael Jordan, he will carry the Bulls to an extra win as well.
This is a series where I see the Lakers going up 2-0 then trading games with the Bulls until it is 4-2. Sure, it went to six, but the Lakers were in control the entire time. Let’s break down why this is the case.
First, we have to look towards the best version of the Kobe-Shaq Lakers, as we are taking the best version of the Michael Jordan Bulls. The 1999-2000 Lakers have the second-most wins in franchise history (67) but the 2000-2001 Lakers went 15-1 in the playoffs.
I am going to go with the 2000-2001 Lakers. Their dominance in that year’s playoffs was arguably the best the team has ever looked and it was the first year where Kobe took that next step to be an MVP-caliber player.
Bryant averaged 29.4 points, 7.3 rebounds and 6.1 assists in that year’s playoffs. Shaq averaged 30.4 points, 15.4 rebounds and 2.4 blocks. The duo alone averaged just around 60 points per game.
So we have the 2000-2001 Lakers with a starting lineup of Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Rick Fox, Horace Grant and Shaquille O’Neal versus the 1995-1996 Bulls with a starting lineup of Ron Harper, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman and Luc Longley.
The Lakers ran a three-man bench primarily that postseason of Tyronn Lue, Robert Horry and Brian Shaw. The Bulls main three bench players were Toni Kukoc, Steve Kerr and Bill Wennington. Chicago has the advantage on the bench.
But what about the starting lineup? The biggest question is could the Chicago Bulls contain Shaquille O’Neal and perhaps even utilize hack-a-Shaq against him? We do have some precedent for how the Bulls did against Shaq that year.
The Bulls swept the Orlando Magic that year in the Eastern Conference Finals while Shaq averaged 27 points, 10.8 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game. Shaq also had an all-star guard in Penny Hardaway, who averaged over 25 points in that series. This seemingly answers the question, right? If that Magic team got swept, then how could the Lakers beat the Bulls?
There are important distinctions. First is that this was not prime Shaq and Hardaway, although great was not Kobe Bryant. Hardaway is not as good as Kobe defensively and Kobe would have had more success guarding Michael Jordan, who tore the Magic up in that series.
Kobe also has the Mamba Mentality. It sounds trivial and pointless, but he had the exact same winning-at-all-costs mentality that made Jordan so great. He would have performed under pressure much better than Hardaway.
Another important distinction is experience. If we are pitting the 2000-2001 Lakers against the Bulls then we are pitting a team that has NBA Finals experience against the Bulls. That will undoubtedly help the Lakers in this series.
Talent-wise, how does it stack up? Kobe Bryant is an all-time great, but he is not Michael Jordan. However, if he is 90 percent of Jordan in this series then that is already exponentially better than what Hardaway did.
What about Shaq? While he was still dominant in 1996, he was in his prime in at this time. Even with Dennis Rodman, I cannot see this Shaq not dropping 30 15 and two every night.
The Bulls have an x-factor in Scottie Pippen, however, I just don’t think they would have the scoring prowess to overcome the Lakers. These Lakers are one of the hardest matchups to stop in NBA history and while the Bulls would have done better than the 76ers, they still could only hope to limit the damage, not stop it.
Whatever the team does to “limit” the Lakers offense Kobe Bryant will be able to do to “limit” Michael Jordan. With Shaq protecting the rim and taking the rebounding advantage away from Rodman, I just don’t see a path where the Bulls can win four games.
Is that path trying to hit secondary shooters like Pippen and Kerr from the three-point line? No. While that would work in today’s NBA that was not the Bulls’ identity. Do they have to double Shaq and use MJ or Pippen to limit Kobe? That is probably the best bet, but doubling Shaq is easier said than done.
Matchup-wise it is a nightmare for the Chicago Bulls. Michael Jordan is the best to ever do it, but facing someone who is 90 percent of who he is with the same mentality plus one of the most dominating centers in NBA history would be too much to handle.
The latest Lakers news is completely correct. The Kobe-Shaq Lakers would have beaten the MJ Bulls. Now everyone must take to 2K to play this matchup out.