As I watch the Los Angeles Lakers frustrate the Utah Jazz with their length and athleticism in the first half of Game Two on Wednesday night, I realize I don't need to see anything else from these Lakers.
They breezed through the first round, knocking off a 50-win Denver team and, as of right now, are disposing of a Jazz team that was supposed to take them to seven games.
Yes, we are in L.A., but even when the series swings back to Utah, I don't see the series evening up. Not only that, I don't see any team in the West knocking them off their sunny perch. Here are a few reasons why:
1. The Lakers are incredibly long. The interior defense consists of 7-footer Pau Gasol and 6-10 Vladimir Radmanovic, not to mention 6-10 Lamar Odom at the small forward spot. Throw in a 6-6 Kobe Bryant, a first team all-league defender, and you are going to have a difficult time getting a quality shot against this defense.
2. Scoring. In the past, you could load up against Kobe Bryant. Throw junk defenses against him. Triple him, if you will. Those days are gone. The Pau Gasol trade not only brought in a great scorer, but also allowed Lamar Odom to play his natural position of small forward. Now, with Gasol in the post and Odom having a size advantage over nearly every other small forward in the league, you have mismatches all over the court. How about some 3-point shooting? D-Fish is a proven sharpshooter, as are Radmanovic and Vujacic. Any double team leaves one of these 3-point shooters wide open.
3. Experience. Did I say experience with such a young Lakers team? I did. Here you have Kobe Bryant, fresh off winning his first MVP award, winner of three NBA championships. Derek Fisher is also a winner of three rings. Pau Gasol has playoff experience (albeit quite a losing history being with the now miserable Grizzlies) as does Lamar Odom. Oh yeah, Phil Jackson has a little playoff experience as well.
4. Chemistry. Never have I seen Kobe Bryant so loose, so light-hearted. He trusts his teammates now, often passing off shots he would have taken a year ago. And why not? You have a proven 20 and 10 guy in Gasol and another double-double threat every night in Lamar Odom. Guys know their roles here. Luke Walton isn't going to drop 30, but he is going to fill up the box-score and do the little things that teams need to win championships. Kobe knows he doesn't have to fire up 47 shots to win.
5. Kobe Bryant. He's the most dominant player in the game. His MVP trophy has been chilling in the refrigerator a long time now, and now that he has it, he will not be stopped. His shooting percentage is up. He trusts his team. He's the ultimate closer in the 4th quarter.
With the San Antonio Spurs looking like their headed for a second round defeat to the Chris Paul Hornets, the Lakers are headed to the Finals. The Jazz may take them to six, but that will be all. After that, the Lakers will dispose of the Hornets, and will take on either Boston or Detroit in the Finals. The way the Lakers are playing now, I see another banner going up at Staples.