Off an easy 113-96 victory last night at Madison Square Garden the Los Angeles Lakers continue their inexorable climb to the top of the NBA power charts setting themselves up for another ticker tape run that only a couple of months ago was looking more than a little far-fetched.
The team most of Southern California loves so dearly broke out of the 2010/2011 gates with eight straight wins, and all seemed typically delightful. But a middling of 13 wins and 10 losses ensued, and endless, worrisome questions about the two-time world champs were suddenly being bandied about.
Is Kobe still dominant? Can Bynum ever stay healthy? Is Ron Artest, lacking any semblance of an offensive game, worth the court time?
Was "Fish" (veteran point guard Derek Fisher) simply ready to be buried at sea?
The wink, wink around the NBA was that the Lakers were not only shy of being the league's best team, but might only be third best in the West behind San Antonio and Dallas, who were both off to sustained red-hot starts.
But the Lakers kept their L.A. cool—what else?—coach Phil Jackson implanted a few critical Zen needles and now here we are in mid February with the team healthy, red hot themselves off a momentum-building 17-6 run, situating them perfectly to run another postseason table and re-familiarize fans and doubters alike with the Pat Riley trademark phrase—Three-Peat.
It won't come easy, the Spurs, in particular, mean business and off a 44-9 start, it's hard to argue with the team's relative merits. But when push comes to shove, the Spurs big three, Parker, Ginobli and a revived Tim Duncan, won't be able to contain the Lakers even bigger three, Gasol, Bynum and, of course, Kobe Bryant. Artest will shut down someone, Lamar Odom will be an impossible cover and high-flying Shannon Brown will continue to make his presence felt on ESPN highlight reels with critical contributions off the bench.
Meanwhile in the East, Miami and Boston are dead set for a Conference Finals matchup where the Heats own superlative trio, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh and the prematurely anointed King, Lebron James, will challenge a veteran Boston team that has been feeling its youthful oats all season long and will be the toughest of outs if they can maintain their overall health heading into the postseason tourney.
Kevin Garnett, in particular, has been reborn. With physically pumped up point Rajon Rondo having to be accounted for all over the court and Pierce and Allen filling it up at a prodigious rate, there are no drop down doubles on Garnett. He's been a monster—31 minutes, 15 points and nine rebounds a night—in the middle, and there's still Shaq—20 minutes, nine points, 66 percent shooting—and Glenn 'Big Baby" Davis and recently returned, relentless banger, Kendrick Perkins, still to deal with.
As a team the Celtics are shooting a hair under 50 percent from the floor, holding opponents to a league best 91 points per game, and when it come right down to it, they're a deeper, better team than the Heat.
Barring a LeBron James miracle, and we've heard that tune before, the Celts will return to the NBA Finals to face the Lakers, and unlike last years low output, bore-fest this year's matchup should be the L.A.-Boston stuff of legends.
Reaching back to Wilt, Jerry and Elgin vs. Bill Russell and co., further propelled to Herculean heights by the Magic-Bird era, this potential third matchup in four years can and will be dissected endlessly by analysts from Tarrytown to Tibet, but in the end the matchup will simply be too close to call because the teams have myriad similar attributes—post presence, defensive roots, tons of fire power—with one plausible exception.
With all the LeBron-Wade-Kevin Durant chatter, he's still the best player in the NBA. The guy who saves his most miraculous performances for stretch runs during the biggest moments of the biggest games. "Black Mamba" is both a defensive and offensive closer. To mimic New York Knick, melodic color man, Walt Clyde Frazier, implacable, unflappable, unstoppable, a Seventh Wonder of the NBA World!
And until proven otherwise, that'll be the difference between these two stellar teams. Confetti will rain in L.A., and the catch-phrase Three-Peat will once again be paramount on the minds of NBA followers everywhere.
And that's it for today,