Season Series: Lakers 3-1
* This is just one of the match-ups in the conference semi-finals, click below to see all previews *
The Los Angeles Lakers are not just a good team, they are a great team. Probably not the first time you've heard this considering they are the defending NBA Champions but I could care less about last year. I am talking about this year.
Through-out the season and in the first round of the play-offs, Kobe Bryant has been battling injuries and ailments, whether it be a sore shoulder, broken finger or stiff ankle but something has been seeming to hold Kobe back at times this year when in the past, it's been his time to shine. When Kobe is hurting and his game is suffering because of it, the entire team steps up and plays better in order to get the win.
Good teams win but great teams find ways to win and the 2010 Los Angeles Lakers always can find a way to win. They have the best (Lebron admitted) basketball player in the world with Kobe and when the Lakers organization brought in Pau Gasol, it gave Los Angeles questionably the best one-two punch in the NBA.
Even with a championship under their belt and knowing how good Ron Artest was in last years playoffs, the Lakers went out and picked up Artest, which has allowed Kobe to focus more on offence (when not injured), while Artest guards the other teams best player. Throw in the the starting center Andrew Bynum and sixth-man Lamar Odom and you've got yourself a recipe for back-to-back championships.
Those five players can not only win basketball games but can lead the Lakers through the entire playoffs and one thing to keep in mind is that I haven't mentioned the veteran presence of Derek Fisher, who came back to L.A. after his daughter was diagnosed with a disease that could only be treated in at a specific Los Angeles hospital. You can bet your bottom dollar that not only did the Lakers take him back with open arms considering the circumstances but at the same time were happen to have Fisher join the team giving them the extra push.
Not that either of them by any means play a big roll but even Farmar and Adam Morrison can do a little damage at times.
The Lakers opened up the playoffs against the Oklahoma City Thunder and in summary, I dubbed it the "Kobe-Durant Show" and unfortunately it wasn't even close to that. Kobe, ailing from injuries (even though he put up 39 in game two), has sat back and allowed Gasol and Bynum to the dirty work down in the paint as game one's victory can be credited to the stellar play of Bynum and Gasol down low.
Something that might interest you to know is that both Bynum and Gasol were averaging a double-double going into game six in Oklahoma City. That is insane. Together they have combined for over 30 points and 20 rebounds... are you thinking Kobe who? Nah, when Kobe needs to, you can count on him. Bryant put up 39 points in game two as the Lakers jumped to an early 2-0 lead in the series.
In games three and four back in Oklahoma City, you may not have been but I was extremely surprised that the Thunder were able to come back and tie the series. In game five, much like game one, the Lakers found a way to shut down Kevin Durant and made the rest of his team score. To make a long story short... it wasn't enough as they lost 111-87.
In the final game of the series, the Lakers weren't going to allow a game seven and Gasol put in a Kobe miss with 0.5 seconds remaining, leaving the Thunder looking towards next season. In the write-up for the other series below, I state that the West in by far the best conference as far as skilled teams and competitive basketball but I think they Lakers match up much better against Utah, than they would have the Nuggets. As talented as the Jazz are, the Lakers and Phil Jackson will find a way to win.
I have much more confidence taking Kobe, Gasol, Bynum, Odom, Artest and Fisher and Jackson coaching, than I do going with the other side of the court (Boozer, Williams, Kirilenko and Miles with Sloan coaching). EXACTLY my point. As great as Utah played against Denver... the Nuggets are not the defending champs... and either are the Jazz.
If I'm alone in thinking the Lakers have a great match-up here, comment below and bring it to my attention but before you do, consider the following ... 1) are you a Kobe hater? 2) are you drunk? ... because I've been wrong before, but this is one time I certainly won't be.
I may be underestimating the talent of the Utah Jazz, but one thing I am not underestimating is the advantage the Lakers have in the series which I'll get to more in a moment. As for Utah, they looked great taking care of the Carmelo Anthony lead Denver Nuggets.
It wasn't overly about stopping the Nuggets on the defensive side of the ball but more about Denver's inability to put the clamps on Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer. Both men averaged over 40 minutes per game in round one and took full advantage of every second by combining for approximately 50 points per game.
Utah might be a huge problem as Williams seemed to hurt his arm in the last seconds against Denver.
Behind the dynamic duo of Williams and Boozer, you've got a solid core with Paul Millsap, C.J. Miles and Wesley Matthews who themselves put up over fourty a night. That's pretty impressive if you ask me. A teams top five players combining for 90+ points with Kyle Korver and Mehmet Okur still being able to come into the game is scary.
The one thing I like about the Jazz, is they are fun to watch. I've mentioned it before (and I will again) but during the Chicago Bulls - Utah Jazz rivalry in the 90's, I hated watching the Jazz. Stockton and Malone's style of basketball was so boring compared to Jordan and Pippen. Boozer and Williams bring a edge to the Jazz that at some point in their career may just win them a championship but it's not going to happen this year.
As much as Jazz fans are hating me right now, I'll apologize in advance but they need to realize a couple things. Yes, they have a solid starting five but I am not confident with their bench they slightest bit and more importantly, they were 21-20 on the road this year and even though the Lakers were 23-18... four of the seven games are in Los Angeles and the Lakers have a better chance than the Jazz of stealing a game on the road.
If you look at the teams in the Western Conference, there are teams like Utah and Oklahoma City who will only beat you with their starting five. At the same time, you have teams like Phoenix (who can put up 55 points with the bench in a game) or the Lakers who can sub in Odom for Gasol, Walton for Artest, Brown for Fisher and Vujacic for Bryant... with Adam Morrison still on the bench.The 6th-man bench advantage goes to the Lakers.
At point guard, as great as Derek Fisher is, clearly he is no Deron Williams but move to the shooting guard and you have Kobe Bryant for the Lakers, and Wesley Matthews for the Jazz. Kobe will beat Matthews like he is his red-headed step-child... just saying'.
C.J Miles pairing up against Ron Artest. Do you seriously want to know the answer to this question? The Lakers picked up Artest for his defence which is next to none and C.J. Miles is a nobody compared to Artest. Now it gets interesting with Boozer vs. Gasol and for argument sake we will call it a tie, Gasol is amazing but Boozer can put up games of 20 points, 20 rebounds but there is no question Bynum is head and shoulders above Kyrylo Fesenko (who? yeah, exactly my point). With all of that said, the starting five advantage goes to the Lakers, easily.
One advantage that can't be argued in the home-court advantage that the Lakers have and the Jazz can steal home-court by winning one of the two first games (which is possible) but the Lakers will rebound back as they always seem too by winning in Utah. Last but not least, and something else you can't argue is coaching. Jerry Sloan is a good coach, heck he is a great coach... but he is no Phil Jackson.
Every advantage goes to the Lakers but with how hard it is to win on the road in the NBA, there is no way the Lakers can sweep the Jazz. Expect the series to go six games, and if you're right pissed off (Utah Fans...) feel free to leave a comment but hopefully it has some edge to it... Malone.
TheCoach's Pick: LAKERS in SIX