The Lakers’ overall defense failed. Their perimeter players didn’t step up—not even Kobe Bryant. Andrew Bynum was the only consistent player from their frontcourt, since Pau Gasol and Ron Artest were nowhere to be found and Lamar Odom returned to his old habits of inconsistency.
The Mavericks did a great job of exposing all these weaknesses. People say that Bryant’s teammates were the reasons they lost; they don’t blame Bryant. They say that even Michael Jordan would’ve been swept.
Those people are wrong.
Jordan had the heart of a champion. No one can ever beat his will to win, his competitiveness. If Jordan was playing for the Lakers, I believe they would’ve done a better job. If you ask me, they would’ve won the series, and the championship.
The Lakers are a talented team. I can’t imagine Jordan losing a playoff series with teammates like Gasol, Bynum, Odom, and Artest, let alone being swept. Not to mention with a coach like the one the Lakers have in Phil Jackson. Let’s see how they performed in these playoffs.
Gasol – 13.1 ppg (42.0 FG %), 7.8 rpg
Bynum – 14.4 ppg (54.3 FG %), 9.6 rpg
Odom – 12.1 ppg (45.9 FG %), 6.5 rpg
Artest – 10.6 ppg (44.3 FG %), 4.6 rpg
Against the Mavs:
Gasol – 12.5 ppg (42.2 FG %), 9.3 rpg
Bynum – 13.3 ppg (52.4 FG %), 8.5 rpg
Odom – 12.3 ppg (46.5 FG %), 7.3 rpg
Artest – 8.0 ppg (32.0 FG %), 3.7 rpg
Now, Bryant fans say that Jordan couldn’t have done a better job with teammates playing like that. They say that if Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Toni Kukoc, and Ron Harper had played like that, the Chicago Bulls would’ve been swept as well.
Let’s test that theory. Let’s take a look at how the Bulls played during the 1997 playoffs:
Pippen – 19.2 ppg (41.7 FG %), 6.8 rpg
Kukoc – 7.9 ppg (36.0 FG %), 2.8 rpg
Harper – 7.5 ppg (40.0 FG %), 4.3 rpg
Rodman – 4.2 ppg (37.0 FG %), 8.4 rpg
Against the Heat:
Pippen – 16.8 ppg (41.7 FG %), 5.0 rpg
Kukoc – 3.8 ppg (22.2 FG %), 2.4 rpg
Harper – 8.2 ppg (38.9 FG %), 4.4 rpg
Rodman – 6.0 ppg (37.9 FG %), 12.4 rpg
Against the Jazz:
Pippen – 20.0 ppg (42.1 FG %), 8.3 rpg
Kukoc – 8.0 ppg (40.5 FG %), 3.2 rpg
Harper – 4.8 ppg (34.4 FG %), 4.5 rpg
Rodman – 2.3 ppg (25.0 FG %), 7.7 rpg
As you can see, the Lakers this postseason did play better than the Bulls in 1997, yet they only went 4-6 in the playoffs, while the Bulls went 15-4.
Pippen and Rodman didn’t play like the Hall of Fame players people think they were. Pippen’s shooting was awful, and Rodman wasn’t the rebounding machine he was in the regular season.
The Bulls also faced better teams. In the second round, they faced a tough Atlanta Hawks team that had won 56 games. In the East Finals they faced the Heat, a team that had won 61 games, and in the NBA Finals they faced the Jazz, a team that had won 64 games.
On the other hand, the Lakers this year faced a New Orleans Hornets team that won 46 games, and a Mavs team that won 57 games. Both the Hornets and Mavs were missing one of their best players (David West and Caron Butler, respectively).
Jordan would’ve found some way to beat the Mavs.
For instance, in Game 5 of the 1997 Finals, Jordan, sick as a dog, managed to lead his team to victory on the road. Pippen (Jordan’s best teammate) went 5-17 from the field (29.4 percent).
The Bulls at one point were losing by 16 points; that didn’t stop Jordan from scoring 17 points in the second quarter and 15 in the fourth to finish with 38 points on 48.1 percent shooting to go along with seven rebounds, five assists, and three steals.
The Lakers would have been in a better position if Jordan was there instead of Bryant.