First and foremost, congratulations to the 2008 Most Valuable Player, Kobe Bryant. It's funny how one can go from being the most hated player in the NBA (even among his own team's fanbase) to the MVP, favored by not just Lakers fans, but some non-Lakers fans as well.
Since changing his number, nobody really knew what to expect from Bryant, but we know now: it was a transition from an athlete always in attack mode, to one possessing the ability to "throw the dagger" even without the ball in his hands.
He is more of a complete weapon than the scoring juggernaut we've watched for two or three years after the dynasty.
After sweeping the Nuggets, the Los Angeles Lakers are storming into the second round against a tired Utah Jazz team.
Watching Game Six of the Rockets/Jazz series, I noticed how vulnerable the Jazz are in the first half of games. They will either give up a massive amount of points in the first six minutes, or allow late-quarter runs in the first and second quarters of the games.
In a notable game this year, the Lakers were up by 20 points at the end of the first quarter of a game in Utah, on March 20. Surprisingly, that game was played without Pau Gasol (ankle) and Andrew Bynum (knee).
The result was a 106-95 win, snapping Utah's 19-game home win streak.
Los Angeles was outrebounded and had fewer free throw attempts, but shot 52.5% from the field compared to Utah's 45%. With similar turnovers, assists, and three-point numbers, you'd think it would be a one-point game.
In a meeting on Dec. 28, the Jazz were blasted, being down 32 at the end of the third quarter.
The rebounding numbers were the same, similar assists, but the shooting numbers were similar to the game above. The Lakers shot over 54 percent from the floor.
Deron was a non-factor, Kobe sat the entire fourth, and the Lakers held on for a 123-109 victory.
The Lakers shot 56 percent against the Jazz on Nov. 4, when Kwame Brown was starting for Los Angeles. It led to a 119-109 Lakers victory. Oh yeah, no Odom.
The only loss was back in Utah, where the Lakers were defeated by a Boozer-less, Okur-less Jazz team. Kobe played less minutes due to foul trouble, the Lakers were out-rebounded by 14, and shot only 44 percent from the floor. Fluke? I'd like to think so.
Kobe has made life easier for everyone on the floor. The Lakers win games with Kobe distributing the ball, shooting over 50 percent against Utah in all three wins, and posting similar rebounding stats, as well as turnovers.
As much as I'd like to stay in between optimism and pessimism, this Utah Jazz team may not have a chance.
Keep in mind that this team would be a sixth-seeded West team if it wasn't for the "division champs" rule.
I watched a ton of the Lakers through the dynasty. I'm sure many of you did, also. The triangle offense, being ran today, looks nearly as good as it did eight years ago.
When it's running perfectly, the Lakers are a post threat, as well as an outside threat. Teams like the Jazz can't overcome something so complicated, especially without momentum, and you can almost certainly tally four wins for the Lakers based on home court advantage alone.
The spreading of the floor, the passing among all five players, the post game of Gasol, versatility of Odom and the three-point daggers by Fisher and Vujacic (not to mention Luke Walton's average of 16/5/5 on 63% shooting versus Denver) is a huge advantage for the Lakers. Did I forget about Kobe Bryant?
Los Angeles Lakers Fave 5
C - Pau Gasol
Playoff Averages: 22.3 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 5.0 APG (58.2% FG)
vs. Jazz this season: (n/a)
PF - Vladimir Radmanovic
Playoff Averages: 8.3 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 2.8 APG (31.6% FG)
vs. Jazz this season: 8.5 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 1.0 APG (48% FG)
SF - Lamar Odom
Playoff Averages: 11.8 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 4.5 APG (41.9% FG)
vs. Jazz this season: 15.0 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 4.7 APG (63% FG)
MVP - Kobe Bryant
Playoff Averages: 33.5 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 6.3 APG (50% FG)
vs. Jazz this season: 29.8 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 5.0 APG (56.3% FG)
PG - Derek Fisher
Playoff Averages: 8.5 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 2.5 APG (43.3% FG)
vs. Jazz this season: 10.8 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 4.3 APG (27.8% FG)
Utah Jazz Fave 5
C - Mehmet Okur
Playoff Averages: 13.2 PPG, 12.7 RPG, 1.7 APG (40% FG)
vs. Lakers this season: 9.0 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 2.7 APG (29% FG)
PF - Carlos Boozer
Playoff Averages: 16.0 PPG, 11.7 RPG, 2.7 APG (42.9% FG)
vs. Lakers this season: 22.0 PPG, 12.7 RPG, 3.7 APG (46.2% FG)
SF - Andrei Kirilenko
Playoff Averages: 9.3 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 2.0 APG (40.7% FG)
vs. Lakers this season: 14.5 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 4.3 APG (47.4% FG)
SG - Ronnie Brewer
Playoff Averages: 9.3 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 1.3 APG (51.1% FG)
vs. Lakers this season: 14.8 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 2.5 APG (55.6% FG)
PG - Deron Williams
Playoff Averages: 20.8 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 8.5 APG (53% FG)
vs. Lakers this season: 23.8 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 6.5 APG (53.7% FG)
Keys To Victory
Bench Scoring (Regular Season Series)
Los Angeles Lakers; 147 (36.8 PPG vs. UTA)
Utah Jazz: 108 points (27 PPG vs. LAL)
The Lakers' bench has been ignited all season long. With Millsap, Korver and Harpring coming off the bench for the Jazz, you would think they'd be enough to stop Farmar, Vujacic and Walton.
If the Jazz continue to give up so many bench points, it not only builds on leads late in the first three quarters, but it also gives Kobe and Gasol their much-needed rest to close out the game. That's something Tracy McGrady was unable to have against the Jazz in the first round.
In the 32-point bashing LA gave Utah through three quarters on Dec. 28, Deron was held to 3-for-9 shooting, six points and six assists.
Unlike the situation the Lakers were in when Kobe wasn't scoring the ball in Game 1, the Jazz have nowhere to go when Deron is playing horribly.
He is the nuts and bolts of this Jazz squad, and even though the Lakers really don't need to shut him down to win (he played wonderfully in the other three meetings), doing so will almost guarantee us a victory.
Finally, underestimating the Jazz could give them a victory on the road or at home. Ronnie Brewer, who I would consider a decent player, performs very well against the Lakers.
Millsap and Korver could do the same. The Lakers are notorious for letting those decent players shoot the lights out (don't make me remind you of the Charlotte Bobcats), so going in thinking they don't need to defend everyone may be a mistake the Lakers will regret late in the game.
The Jazz are the best home team in the NBA, but as you saw with the Rockets, they definitely fought them in Utah.
The crowd will be hostile, and where that will be a good thing for Kobe, it may not be for Derek Fisher, who has underperformed against the Jazz all season long.
If the Lakers stick to their guns and change their game every quarter, allowing Kobe to play multiple roles, the Lakers can wrap this up in five games.
My pick? The Lakers, in five. Don't be surprised if it's a sweep, though, or if Utah decides to take a couple at home in this series.
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