We fell a game short of their superb 66-16 record, we’ve dropped a game on our home court much earlier than they did in last year’s playoffs—but at last, we’re starting to see a resemblance.
When the Lakers’ talked about improving their much criticized toughness, many assumed that they had failed. Well, Houston knows better now.
Outside of Boston, last year’s Lakers were head and shoulders above every other team in the league talent-wise.
But if you watched them play, they rarely got in confrontations, even when it was somewhat necessary. At times, they would even seem intimidated and would back down from arguments, simply being content in the fact that they would probably win the game anyway.
Not this year.
Aside from a few aggravating Houston possessions where the Lakers allowed easy inside looks, this is the physical Lakers ball club that we should be seeing.
Last year’s Celtics were well aware of the incredible talent level of their roster. The rest of the league was aware of it too, the thing is that Boston’s talent isn’t what made them so special. They carried themselves with such a nasty demeanor, particularly in Boston, and it was as though they were saying “how dare you step on the court with us”.
The Lakers seem to have finally adapted a Champion’s misdemeanor of their own that says boldly “Get out of our way, we aren’t going into the summer as anything but NBA Champions.” Lesson well learned—thanks, Boston.
Make no mistake about it, though: I have about as much infatuation with the Celtics as Ron Artest’s barber had with sobriety, but the Celtics demanded respect from every team they stepped on the court with and everyone acquiesced. Who am I to do differ?
Taking a look back on Fisher’s flagrant foul on Luis Scola, I know that some will argue that it was a dirty shot. Even as I struggle to overcome my own personal satisfaction with the play, I can see that it was a bit uncalled for. The funny thing is that in the long haul, the play may have more effect on the outcome of this series than any we’ve seen thus far.
It is not at all unthinkable that the Lakers close out this series in five games. But in order for that to happen against a mangy, scrappy, blue-collar team like Houston, the Lakers needed motivation. What better motivation is there than dislike?
After all, if it’s one thing that the Lakers have been in desperate need of all season long, it’s a wakeup call. As a team, the Lakers have seemed sluggish and unmotivated more often than not. What’s worse is that they’ve been getting away with it for the most part just because of their high talent level.
The Rockets, on the other hand, are not an extremely talented ballclub. They simply aren’t. When Yao is contained, they struggle to just to bring their final score total above the 80s. While their defense certainly is chippy, it’s not nearly as effective or imposing as the Celtics', the Cavaliers', or the Pistons' of yesteryear.
At the end of the day, Kobe Bryant will not allow the Lakers season to end here. And as if his performance yesterday wasn’t enough of a testament to that, no 60-plus-win Phil Jackson–coached team has ever failed to win a Championship, let alone failed to make a Finals appearance at all. That’s not going to change.
Call it arrogant, call it disrespectful, call it what you will, but the Lakers are going to win this series, and I’m more than willing to stake my credibility on that fact.
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