The difference is that the team that lost the NBA Finals in game six had actually lost the series in game four by allowing the Celtics to come back and win after having a 24-point lead in a must win home game.
This time last year, no one expected the young Los Angeles Lakers to make a run to the NBA Finals with all of their offseason turmoil. The thought then was that the Lakers would be the sixth seed in the playoffs at best.
Beyond Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher, this is a young team that grew up last year and had a taste of success reaching the NBA Finals and now nothing else except winning it all will suffice.
A motto for this Lakers team could easily be NBA Finals or bust.
The team returns the majority of the same players from last year with a few additions; most importantly everyone is healthy, which couldn’t be said last year.
The young players received valuable experience last year. The team learned the hard way that they’re focus needs to be on defense and everyone has bought into it.
The Lakers have a tremendous amount of depth. They’re basically two deep at every position, which offers Coach Phil Jackson great versatility. Phil Jackson and staff made the decision to have the versatile Lamar Odom come off the bench, which improves an already potent bench.
This is a scary thought for the opposing team, seeing as the Lakers bench averaged 32 points per game last year.
Future starting point guard Jordan Farmar, Trevor Ariza, and Andrew Bynum all look poised for breakout seasons for the balanced Lakers. Both Farmar and Bynum development as players has gone well and both received contract extensions.
He will still play the same amount of minutes that he normally has, but he should have more of an impact on the game. The starting five really wouldn’t have been good in transition defense with "LO" in the starting unit because the team would’ve been slower.
This isn’t a knock on "LO," but having a shooter like Vladimir Radmanovic spread the floor provides proper spacing for the offense. Radmanovic has also displayed a renewed vigor and desire to really work on the defensive end of the floor.
The Lakers talent, depth, versatility, and length allow the second unit the opportunity to run and push the ball up the court and basically change the pace of the game and get the team in transition to acquire transition baskets on lay-ups and dunks.
Moving Lamar Odom to the second unit makes the starters a better defensive team, as well as places him in a situation where he can come off the bench and be aggressive.
The Lakers emphasis on defense has been a welcome sight, especially with a healthy Andrew Bynum back to being a presence in the paint. Pau Gasol has been able to move to his natural position as a mobile power forward.
The guards and forwards are aggressively challenging ball handlers, closing out on shooters in the passing lanes, and doing an excellent job of switching defenders and forcing everything to the baseline with two seven footers behind initial defenders to clean things up.
The Lakers are showing excellent player movement and ball movement, although the team is forcing the action and getting transition baskets, but will still run their customary triangle offense when in the half court set.
Some of the most important numbers coming out of the first two games of the season are wins by a total of 58 points and holding the oppositions FG shooting percentage to 36.7, which is what the Clippers shot.
The Lakers are seeking a return trip to the NBA Finals with the home court advantage and winning it this time around. This is the only way to remove the bad taste in the mouths from 131-92.