The NBA Finals are around the corner, and our matchup is half revealed. The Los Angeles Lakers will make their 30th appearance on the big stage and will face off against the winner of the Orlando Magic-Cleveland Cavaliers Eastern Conference Finals in a best-of-seven series.
Let's take a look back at the Lakers' stats from the first three rounds of last postseason and see where they stand in comparison to this playoffs' production.
In the first round of the 2008 Playoffs, the Lakers averaged 114.5 PPG; shot 48.2 percent from the field, 39.7 percent on threes, and 70.8 percent on free throws; and posted 28 assists per game. They ousted the Denver Nuggets in a 4-0 sweep.
In the first round of the 2009 Playoffs, the Lakers averaged 106.6 PPG; shot 49.8 percent from the field, 44.4 percent from three, and 72.6 percent from the stripe; and put up 22.4 assists per game. Their first series ended with a 4-1 finish of the Utah Jazz.
In the first round of the 2008, Kobe Bryant averaged 33.5 PPG; shot 50 percent on field goals, 33 percent on three-point shots, and 73.7 percent on free throws; and offered five assists per game. Compare that to 27.4 PPG; 46.6 percent FG shooting, 35.3 percent three shooting, and 89.7 percent on foul shots; and 5.6 assists per game during the 2009 first round.
You can see that the Lakers' points per game average dropped 7.9 compared to the year prior, while their field goal, three-point, and free-throw percentages went up and their assists dropped slightly. Still, the series both ended fairly easily in the Lakers' favor.
As for Bryant, his points per game and field goal shooting both suffered relatively this season, but he has made more three-point shots and free throws and has added more assists per game.
In the second round of the 2008 Playoffs, the Lakers averaged 110.3 PPG; shot 49.3 percent from the field, 44.7 percent from range, and 77.3 percent on free throws; and posted 20.6 assists per game. That series closed with a 4-2 vanquishing of the Utah Jazz.
In the second round of the 2009 Playoffs, the Lakers averaged 97.8 PPG; 45.2 percent field goal shooting, 35.3 percent three-point shooting, and 72 percent foul-shot shooting; and put up 17 assists per game. The Houston Rockets took seven games to dispatch.
In the second round of the 2008 Playoffs, Kobe Bryant averaged 33.1 PPG, shot 49.1 percent on FGs, 17.4 percent on threes, and 83.3 percent on free throws; and averaged 7.2 assists per game. Put that beside his 27.4 PPG, 45.3 percent FG shooting, 34.4 percent from beyond the arc, 83.3 percent charity-stripe clip, and 3.7 assists per game during the 2009 Playoffs' second round.
These numbers continue the thread: The Lakers once again have lower numbers compared to a year ago, with all levels seeing declining numbers after going to a thrilling Game Seven against the Houston Rockets.
Bryant remained the same in free throws and registered more long bombs made but suffered in field goal shots and points per game. Perhaps most noitceably, his dimes per dropped 3.5.
In the third round of the 2008 Playoffs, the Lakers averaged 93.4 PPG; shot 46 percent on field goals, 32.5 percent one threes, and 76.6 percent on foul shots; and managed 16.8 assists per game. The San Antonio Spurs fell in five.
In the third round of the 2009 Playoffs, the Lakers averaged 105.6 PPG; shot 46.6 percent from the field, 36.6 percent from long range, and 78.7 percent from the stripe; and put up 22.1 assists per game. The Nuggets went down in six games.
In the third round of the 2008 Playoffs, Kobe Bryant averaged 29.2 PPG; shot 53.3 percent on field goals, 26.6 percent on three-pointers, and 70 percent on foul shots; and averaged 3.8 assists per game. His '09 numbers for that same WCF round were 34 PPG, 48.1 FG percent, 33 3PFG percent, 93 FT percent, and 5.8 assists per game.
So the team had the ability to gain an additional 12.2 PPG during the third round this season, and even after going to an additional game this year, the Lakers' numbers have seen steady increases across the board.
Also, whereas Bryant had somewhat struggled through most of the Playoffs to the beginning of the Western Conference Finals (seeing drops in many of his numbers), he gained 4.8 PPG, 2 assists per and 23 percent in free throws.
In the NBA Finals last year, the Lakers averaged 93.8 PPG; shot 44 percent on field goals, 34.5 percent from the arc, and 76.1 percent from the foul line; and put up 19.3 assists. Kobe Bryant had 25.6 PPG; shot 40.4 percent from the field, 32.1 percent on long bombs, and 79.6 percent from the stripe; and managed five assists per game.
Whether the Lakers' and Kobe's numbers in the championship improve this year remains to be seen, but if this team plays anything like they did in the third round, we should see an exciting series.
As we get set for the Finals, take a look back at the regular season: The Lakers had a 2-0 record against the Cleveland Cavaliers but struggled against the Orlando Magic, losing both matchups. With the lack of a second man in Cleveland for LeBron to play off of, the Lakers certainly seem to have the edge there, but Orlando certainly has the ability to put up strong numbers against the Lakers and have shown so in the past.
My early predictions for each potential series has me picking a couple of different scenarios: I'd say L.A. over Cleveland 4-1 and L.A. over Orlando 4-2 if they can keep their strong play up.
But if they can't, I have this feeling we will see Orlando fighting even harder and taking as good as a 4-1 series win over Los Angeles. Either way, we're looking at one exciting NBA Finals series, regardless of whether the King or Superman shows up in the finals.