Suddenly, the NBA Might Not Get its Dream Matchup

Mark HauserCorrespondent IIMay 18, 2009

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 19:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers shoots a jumper against LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers during the game at Staples Center on January 19, 2009 in Los Angeles, California.  The Lakers defeated the Cavaliers 105-88.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

When the Playoffs began, it seemed inevitable that the NBA was going to get its dream match-up of the last two MVP’s:  Kobe vs. Lebron.  Well, something funny happened on the way to the forum, uh, finals. 

OK, actually two important things happened:  1. The sometimes-focused Lakers struggled against a depleted Rockets team; and 2. The under the radar number two seed in the West (the Nuggets) are playing as well as anyone in the playoffs.

Now, some of the basketball experts on ESPN and TNT are predicting that the Nuggets will beat the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals and screw up our dream match-up.  While I still think that the Lakers are more likely to win against the Nuggets, it does seem a lot less likely than it did a couple of weeks ago.

However, let’s not forget that the Celtics struggled in the first two round of the playoffs last year before turning it on consistently at the end of the Conference Finals and in the NBA Finals on the way to their title.

Hence, the question is:  Will the Lakers’ lack of focus and consistent defense cost them a trip to the finals and an NBA championship, or will they turn it on when necessary and find ways to win like the Celtics did last year?  And, a rather obvious follow-up question:  Why were the Lakers so inconsistent against the injury-riddled Rockets?

The most apparent answer to the latter question seems to be that the Lakers are not committed to consistently playing tough defense every night—the very thing that the Lakers were intent on fixing this year since it cost them a championship last year against the Celtics.  Why they are not committed to playing defense is not so clear. 

Their leader, Kobe plays fairly consistent defense, so maybe the players are not listening to their head coach, Phil Jackson.  Maybe, as Bob Ryan of the SportsReporters suggested, there is some sort of disconnect between this team and Jackson.

Why players would not listen to a coach with nine NBA titles is beyond me.  I will point out, however, that the last two times (after Jackson’s teams went 9-0 in the finals) that the Jackson coached Lakers were in the NBA Finals they were favored going in and both times they lost because the other teams (Pistons and Celtics) played tougher defense. 

There appears to be a pattern here and maybe, just maybe, Jackson, has lost his touch.  And maybe, just maybe, Jackson should be quicker to call a time-out when his team seems unfocused defensively early in the game.

As for the answer to the former question, I do believe that the Lakers will get by the Billups/Anthony led Nuggets in seven games.  And while I may not be the genius that Jackson used to be (but, then again, maybe I am lol), I can recognize that the Lakers play tougher defense at home and they do have court advantage against the Nuggets. 

However, Leborn James and the Cavaliers are consistently committed to defense and James is a better leader than Kobe.  Plus, the Cavaliers seem to like playing with each more than the Lakers and Cleveland will have court advantage against LA if they play in the finals. 

I hope the Lakers wake up and we do get our dream match-up, but I do smell a changing of the guard.  And Lebron seems poised to follow in Michael Jordan’s footsteps.  Hence, I’ll take the Cavs in seven over the Lakers if we get our dream matchup. 

One can only hope that Jackson regains his coaching touch because I am still drooling (it started when I was young and I am a slow learner—kinda like the Lakers) to see Kobe vs. LeBron.   


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