Is It Thursday Yet?
Posted by hiphopmama on June 2, 2009
How am I supposed to survive a week with no Lakers basketball? I guess I’ll find out soon because, win or lose, the season will be over shortly and I’ll be forced to find another form of subsistence with both the NBA and European soccer leagues entering their off-seasons. For now, luckily, we have at least four more games to look forward to, and the most important of the season at that.
We now know that the Finals match-up will be between the Lakers and Magic, who moved on at the expense of the Chosen One’s Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals. Poor Nike won’t get quite the bang for their buck with those cute puppet commercials without the vaunted Kobe-LeBron match-up, but the Magic weren’t having it and sent them packing. ‘Bron Bron, in all his wondrous glory, saw fit to ditch his opponents and teammates after losing game 6, skipping out on all the postgame festivities, including the shaking of hands with the Magic as well as all press conferences. But, you know, he’s a “competitor” so he doesn’t need to engage in all of that. As he said days later with his Yankees cap firmly planted on his bulbous head. Don’t get me wrong, my favorite player is quite the asshole himself and probably gets more ill will from various corners than any other NBA superstar. But he never bailed on his teammates that way, no matter how fierce the competition or heartbreaking the loss. I guess James is just bigger than the team, which is a pretty good indication that he both could and should consider making his exit after next season. Sucks for the city of Cleveland, but bon voyage to the King. Go live it up in New York with Nate Robinson and Quentin Richardson and whatever coach they have brought in on that carousel. Maybe the spotlight will suit him better than the W’s.
On to the actual Finals, I have to say I’m more worried about the Magic than I would have been about the Cavs. Yes, any team with LeBron James is always a threat, but there was very little around him to threaten us. The Magic, on the other hand, have a stacked line-up of perimeter threats, all surrounding an incredible anchor in Dwight Howard. As they showed against the Cavs, they are formidable around that three-point line all the way down that roster. Even recent addition Rafer Alston can knock them down on occasion, but the biggest dangers are Hedo Turkoglu, Rashard Lewis, and sixth man Mickael Pietrus, all of whom use their size and speed advantage on the perimeter to free themselves up for the trey. Needless to say, the ability to pound the ball down low with Howard helps open things up exponentially as the game goes on, which, as Lakers assistant coach Brian Shaw noted, accounts for their incredible late-game surges to make up early deficits. As their opponent’s interior defense wears down and perimeter defenders have to sag, it leaves their long-distance shooters the extra room they need to fire one up.
The bad news for us? We don’t defend the three-point line particularly well and have been burned by it on numerous occasions. The good news? It’s almost the entirety of their game, as they both live and die by it, and you all know what they say about teams who depend on the jump shot.
The best, admittedly pro-Lakers, tactical breakdown you will find is over at Forum Blue & Gold, where they assert that the mismatches all line up in our favor. The one match-up that I think is neglected in this analysis is Pau Gasol on Rashard Lewis, which presents some interesting issues to say the least. While Pau is certainly long enough to contend with Lewis, the question remains as to whether he is quick enough to keep up with him on the outside. I expect Orlando to work that match-up to the fullest to look for any chinks in our defensive armor. Bynum will be expected to mark Howard, which I believe he can do with some level of success for as long as he can stay on the floor and out of foul trouble. Since I don’t expect him to be able to do either of those things for very long, I figure we’ll see Pau at the five quite a bit and Odom on Lewis. That’s a much better match-up for us, although Pau gives up a lot in terms of bulk on Howard. That said, I don’t think anyone will be able to do much of anything about Howard on the block, so I’d rather lock up their shooters and let Superman go for 40 than worry too much about the front-court match-up.
On the offensive side of the ball, I like what I see. Who in that starting line-up guards Kobe? Courtney Lee? I don’t think so. Rashard Lewis? Not nearly quick enough. Mickael Pietrus is the one player who can do a serviceable job – did you see him on LeBron against Cleveland? – but he doesn’t even start and no one really stops Kobe anyway. Neither Turkoglu nor Lewis have the length to deter Gasol, though Howard will be a more formidable opponent. Still, Pau’s speed in running the floor may help him in terms of both fast break points and post positioning.
What it comes down to, as always, is our ability and desire to play our game. If we play to our full potential, at anything close to the level we showed in game 6 against the Nuggets, the series is ours to win. Much as I have campaigned for Stan Van Gundy as an elite coach in the league, we still are the better coached team with superior talent and versatility through our whole line-up. We have home court advantage, and now that we are at the final stage, you would think motivation wouldn’t be a problem. If we can just put all the pieces together, we will have our fates in our own hands. If, however, we play the kind of lackluster defense and tepid offense that saw us need seven games to beat Houston, this will be a very long series indeed. I don’t think it will be a short series in any case, but I see it going our way with Pau proving his worth and finally shedding that “soft” tag for good. Official prediction: Lakers in 6.