2010 NBA Playoffs: Guess What? The LA Lakers Are Still the Team to Beat

Hadarii JonesSenior Writer IApril 28, 2010

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 27:  (C) Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts with teammate Shannon Brown #12 in the first half while taking on the Oklahoma City Thunder during Game Two of the Western Conference Quarterfinals of the 2010 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center on April 27, 2010 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

For those of you unfamiliar with the art of ghost-riding you will have to excuse my association with the term and the Los Angeles Lakers, but for those who have witnessed the feat, it may be easier to understand my analogy.

Ghost-riding is a hip-hop derivative that was popularized in the streets of Oakland, Calif., and it is definitely not for the faint of heart.

It involves placing a vehicle in neutral or drive with the stereo blasting and no one present in the passenger compartment, and then proceeding to dance beside the car while it is slowly moving down the street.

As if this wasn't enough, practitioners decided to advance the art further by climbing on top of the car and performing their choreography with the vehicle still in motion.

If done right, the image of ghost-riding is like poetry in motion, but considering all of the elements involved with pulling the trick off successfully, the slightest misstep could be deadly.

People have literally lost their lives attempting to ghost-ride, and while the Lakers' playoff struggle is not in the same life or death context, the two do possess similar characteristics.

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One of the most enticing aspects about ghost-riding is the visual imagery created by a person dancing beside, or on top of, a car while it is moving, and their whole body is in unison with the music.

It is an incredible picture, but few understand the amount of work it takes to prevent that image from transforming into a nightmare.

On paper, the Lakers have the look of a championship team, and the evidence of 2009 says this is true. But at times this postseason, Los Angeles has seemed to be in serious danger of falling underneath their car.

However, if the Lakers' Game Four loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder was an example of what could go wrong while ghost-riding, then Game Five was a picture of the art at its best.

Los Angeles played its most complete game of the postseason, and delivered what was arguably the most thorough beatdown any team has received in the 2010 NBA playoffs, as it silenced the Thunder 111-87.

This is the type of performance Lakers fans had been waiting for, and it served notice to the rest of the league what the Lakers are capable of doing when they are playing with focus and motivation.

For once, Los Angeles was fully in rhythm on both ends of the floor, and the cohesive play that led it to last season's championship was on full display for all to see.

Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol combined for 46 points and 22 rebounds, which is more than half of the Thunder's final tally in both points and boards, as the Lakers ended any doubt about the outcome in the first quarter.

Kobe Bryant only finished with 13 points, which is one more than he had in Game Four's dismal showing, but unlike that game, Bryant performed as a facilitator for the offense, and took the challenge of defending Russel Westbrook.

The Thunder's young point guard had made the Lakers guards his play things, but Bryant was able to effectively limit Westbrook's penetration, and make him look uncomfortable and indecisive on the perimeter.

More importantly, the Lakers were able to sustain this intensity for the entire game, and when the starters exited the contest in the third quarter, the reserves were able to make sure they didn't have to come back out in the fourth.

The rest will certainly help the weary body of Bryant, but the Lakers' performance should quiet some of the detractors who have been quick to declare Los Angeles' repeat attempt dead on arrival.

Even fans who bleed purple and gold have placed little faith in their team, but this win should serve as an awakening, because when the Lakers play with this type of rhythm, they are nearly impossible to defeat.

There are some who will say this game is an anomaly and there is no way the Lakers can do this for the duration of the postseason. That may be true, but what about during the course of a seven-game series?

The Lakers didn't win their title in 2009 by mistake, and during that run they were faced with similar adversity and doubts, especially after their close semifinal victory over the Houston Rockets.

The Lakers showed an ability to adapt and adjust to circumstances and when it mattered the most, Los Angeles played with the focus and determination of a champion.

In fact it was similar to last night, and even though the Thunder may possibly force a Game Seven, the Lakers have shown when they play as a cohesive unit and pay attention to minor details, that they can ghost-ride with the best of them.

The Cleveland Cavaliers, Boston Celtics, and Orlando Magic have all ended their first round series, and all three stand as possible threats to the Lakers chances of repeating.

But the road to the 2010 NBA championship still runs through Los Angeles, and for those who have written the Lakers off, last night shows knocking them off of that moving car may be harder than you think.