Are The Rockets Prepping The Lakers For a Title?

Bill CodyCorrespondent IIIMay 7, 2009

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 04:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers moves the ball against Ron Artest #96 of the Houston Rockets in the fourth quarter of Game One of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2009 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center on May 4, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

I live in Los Angeles, CA, and this is a Lakers town. It used to be a Dodger town but like New Wave music and John Hughes movies, that's just so 80's.

And this was supposed to be our year. We were told by almost everyone that the Lakers were going to coast into the NBA Finals, losing one, or at the most two games along the way.

The Western Conference was down this season and we were just too talented to be challenged.

Then we going to sit back and wait. Resting up while the Celtics, Cavs, and maybe the Orlando Magic slugged it out in the East for the right to limp into the finals and get easily beaten by our incredibly talented team.

So on Monday, when our team of destiny, the team that was supposed to coast into the finals, got thumped by the Houston Rockets, the whole town went into mourning. (Well, not Matt Damon but that is so last last year.)

In a town where people rarely converse, everyone was suddenly talking to one another about our team. The Weather Channel may have been reporting 85 and sunny but believe me, it was cold and stormy here in SoCal on Monday.

I was in a liquor store buying a soda and the man at the counter leaned over and whispered to me: "Did you hear about the Lakers?". He shook his head sadly as he handed me my change.

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But in my mind, the Rockets may be the best thing that could have happened to the Lakers since they were gifted Pao Gasol by the Memphis Grizzlies.

So, how is losing to Houston a good thing you may ask?

I mean, they'll have to claw their way past a tough Houston team and then face a fired up, rejuvenated Denver Nuggets team.

All before they get to the finals against a Cleveland Cavaliers team that will likely coast through now that Kevin Garnett is out of the playoffs, and Orlando has shown itself to be the reincarnation of "Not Ready For Prime Time Players."

Because they are on same track as last year's Boston Celtics.

Everyone remembers that the boys from Beantown crushed the Lakers in the finals. Here in LA, the 131-92 whipping the Lakers took in the last game is etched on everyone's minds. As is the the huge lead the Lakers lost in Game 4.

But most people forget how the Celtics got into the finals in the first place. A tough seven game series with the surprising Atlanta Hawks, followed by an even tougher seven game series with the Cleveland LeBrons, and a six game series with the Pistons.

And it was that gauntlet that made Boston the hard-nosed winners that showed up in the finals. By the time they showed up to take on the Lakers they were a battle tested bunch, ready to claim the crown.

The Lakers didn't know how to handle the kind of adversity the Celtics had already faced down while going through the East.

The Lakers have always known how to beat opponents through sheer talent, because they have a ton. When they get to race up and down the court and outscore their opponents they win easily.

But last year's finals showed them as a team that didn't really have it when things got tough. And when they had to battle to keep the home court advantage down the stretch, they didn't pick it up like LeBron's Cavs did.

Last year, the Lakers cruised into the finals. But they didn't learn how to win.

This year, the Houston Rockets and the Denver Nuggets just might show them how.


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