Utah is a physically tough team. The Jazz players have completely bought into Coach Sloan's system. They will give it their all. They will play hard nose D. They will hold, grab, flop, and cheat. They will do whatever it takes to win.
They believe, the end justifies the means.
But, I noticed in the Houston series, they lacked at times the most important kind of toughness. The type that closes out and wins the close games. In the fourth quarter, they struggled to move the ball, take and make the shot, and looked confused. Simply, they lacked the mental toughness to overcome the adverse situation.
The Lakers on the otherhand have been accused of being soft. You bang with them, and they back down. They lose their heads if it doesn't go the way they drew it up on the board.
The example people point to is the Celtics game in December. The Celtics pushed, shoved, grabbed, got away with it, and the Lakers melted.
I feel that was the game that changed the Lakers season. They were playing good, but they lacked the mental toughness to compete with the big boys of the NBA. And the Lakers knew it. So, they built off that game and looked for opportunities to improve, and they did.
How much so? Look at two primary examples...
Game Three vs. Denver
The Nuggets were down two, and so looked to film on how to beat the Lakers. They looked at old Red Auerbach Celtics tape. If you can't beat him fair, then cheat and maim. Take 'em down, hurt them, throw elbows, try to end players careers, get them mad, and you will win. Because a mad team that is out of control loses focus, loses the game, and maybe the series.
Denver tried hard to hurt the Lakers, and I'm sure they made Red proud, but this time it failed. The Lakers did the hardest and most difficult thing they could do. They did nothing. That takes a certain kind of toughness, mental toughness, to not reply in kind.
The results? It backfired on Denver. They were the ones who lost composure, they became well, madder, not the Lakers. They lost their focus, the game, and the series.
Game Four vs. Denver
Now we got a game. Denver has given up on the 'hurt them, and they will break' strategy.
It's now late in the fourth, both teams are trading baskets. The crowd has gone wild, the atmosphere is frenzied.
It came down to which team crumbles from the pressure? The odds are, the visiting team cracks first and loses.
Now there is Denver tough, and there's Lakers tough. The Lakers amid all the screaming and yelling, quietly executed their offense with precision. Denver tried to match, but it was they that wilted under the pressure.
This is why my prediction for this series is so one sided for the Lakers.
Utah is a very good team, but they lack the right kind of toughness to win a close series. And you know what they say, "When the going gets tough, the tough get going".
And that's why I say, "There is tough, and there is Lakers tough."
Lakers in five.