Road Map to a Repeat: How the LA Lakers Can Defeat Each Future Opponent
The Los Angeles Lakers hold a 3-0 lead over the Jazz in their Western Conference Semifinals series, and a win Monday night would complete a sweep and a Western Conference Finals date with Phoenix.
The Lakers' task will not be simple, because the Jazz will draw off of the energy of their home crowd, and the return of forward Andrei Kirilenko will surely provide an emotional boost.
Los Angeles must also contain Deron Williams and try to prevent him from having the type of game which inspires and motivates the rest of his teammates.
Although Williams and his considerable talent stand as an obstacle for the Lakers, they have found a clear formula for defeating Utah, which is centered on the huge size disparity in the paint.
The Jazz have found no answer for Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, and Lamar Odom in the paint, and that will likely doom Utah, but what's next for Los Angeles?
I have compiled a slide show of each of the Lakers' potential opponents after Utah, and what Los Angeles must do to defeat them in the course of a seven game series.
Likewise, the Atlanta Hawks have fell behind three games in their series against the Orlando Magic, but for all practical purposes, the Magic won that series when they defeated the Hawks by 43 points in the opening game.
The Magic have exposed the Hawks as pretenders, and even though Atlanta may win a game or two, it's hard to picture them winning this series.
I was tempted to travel the same path with the Boston Celtics, especially after their 29-point loss at home, but they rebounded behind Rajon Rondo on Sunday to even the series 2-2.
I'm sure there will be those who disagree, and please feel free to voice your opinions and let me know where I may have erred in my logic. Please enjoy!
4. Phoenix Suns
The Phoenix Suns have began to make believers out of a lot of people around the NBA, but excuse me if I'm not one of them, because I still don't believe in their defense.
I will admit they have looked better on the defensive end of the floor, and timely and inspired performances by players such as Jared Dudley, have helped take down San Antonio.
But the Spurs are not the Lakers, and Los Angeles will constantly pound the ball on the inside to Gasol and Bynum. The Suns will have no answer for the onslaught.
Amar'e Stoudemire does not seem to recognize the importance of good defense, so he pays it little attention. And although the Suns have a deep bench, there are no defensive specialists.
Victory for the Suns lies in an ability to push the tempo, but the Lakers play good enough defense to slow them down some, and Los Angeles can make it a half-court game by focusing on feeding the post.
The Lakers are playing with a real defensive rhythm and a team like the Suns could possibly induce Los Angeles to come out of its offensive funk as well.
The Lakers' advantages in the post and the inability of Grant Hill or Dudley to guard Kobe Bryant will make the Suns' stay in the Western Conference Finals a short one.
3. Boston Celtics
After Friday night's humiliating loss at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers, it appears there is little chance the Boston Celtics will survive the series, let alone advance to the Finals.
But if the impossible should happen the Celtics are probably the team the Lakers would most want to face, and it's not because Boston is considered the weakest opponent in the east either.
The Lakers' 40-point defeat in Game Six of the 2008 NBA Finals is something Los Angeles would dearly love to avenge, and they would be motivated by the opportunity.
The composition of each team's roster has changed since 2008 and the Lakers are better equipped to deal with the Celtics' deliberate and physical half court game.
Andrew Bynum gives the Lakers the extra length in the post which was missing in 2008, and Ron Artest gives Los Angeles the physical edge.
A Finals series between the Lakers and Celtics would likely be a physical, half-court affair, and the Lakers would probably prevail because of an edge in talent, as well as the benefit of home court advantage.
2. Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cleveland Cavaliers would enter a Finals series against the Lakers with home-court advantage and the confidence of knowing they can beat them due to their sweep of the regular season series.
The Cavaliers are an excellent defensive team, but would still probably prefer to push the tempo, because LeBron James is such a beast in the open court, and in transition.
The Lakers can match the Cavaliers on the defensive end, and they still have an advantage in the post, although it is less pronounced against Cleveland.
Cavaliers centers Shaquille O'Neal and Zydrunas Ilglauskas were able to provide a counter balance for the Lakers length in the post during the regular season, but a seven game series is a different matter.
Gasol and Bynum are younger and more talented and bigger than any of the Cavaliers post players, and as long as Bynum and Gasol play with a physical edge, they should hold their own in the paint.
The Lakers will not be able to stop James, but if Artest can provide some resistance and the rest of the team stays true to their defensive assignments, they have a realistic chance at victory.
Lamar Odom would likely be pivotal in this series because his ability to switch from the perimeter to the post has caused matchup problems for Cleveland in the past, when faced with the same situation.
Another key will be containing the penetration of Cavaliers' point guard Mo Williams, and limiting him to jump shots, which plays into the advantage of the Lakers' superior defense from the three-point line.
1. Orlando Magic
The Orlando Magic would probably be the most difficult Finals matchup for the Lakers, and the fact Orlando came up short last season provides motivation going forward.
The Magic certainly looks as if the goal is a return to the Finals, because they have without question been the best team in the postseason thus far.
Orlando has made mockeries of their first two opponents and have yet to feel the sting of a postseason defeat, and it is very possible the Atlanta Hawks could become the next victims of a sweep.
The Magic are a good defensive team who love to shoot the three, and they are anchored by their Defensive Player of the Year, Dwight Howard, an intimidating figure in the post.
The Lakers defeated the Magic last season because they defended the three-point line effectively, and they were able to limit Howard' touches in the post, with limited double-teaming.
Gasol and Bynum's defense on Howard would be crucial, because if the Lakers are forced to double him, it presents opportunities for the countless numbers of perimeter shooters on the Magic roster.
Point guard Jameer Nelson has been brilliant for Orlando, and his penetration could cause all sorts of problems for the defending champions.
None of the other Magic players really excel at getting to the rim, so the difference in the series could boil down to preventing Nelson from having the type of impact which could swing the series.