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A Los Angeles Lakers' Repeat May Be a Matter Of Destiny

Hadarii JonesSenior Writer IMay 1, 2010

PHOENIX - MARCH 12:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts to Pau Gasol #16 during the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at US Airways Center on March 12, 2010 in Phoenix, Arizona.  The Lakers defeated the Suns 102-96.  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 Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

No one said repeating as NBA champions would be a simple task for the Los Angeles Lakers, and the young Oklahoma City Thunder gave the men from Tinseltown all they could handle during a grueling, six-game, Western Conference first-round series.

But, the Lakers finally managed to dispatch of the Thunder due to great defense, superior play by Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant, timely baskets by Shannon Brown, and of course a little luck.

Gasol's tip-in off of an errant Bryant jumper clinched the game and the series for the Lakers, but the real contest was likely won when the Thunder had fought back and took a lead with around three minutes left in the game.

This was the type of situation most observers expected the Lakers to crumple under, but instead there was Lamar Odom grabbing crucial rebounds, and there was Ron Artest playing tight defense on Kevin Durant, which was Artest's trademark in this series.

Instead of bowing under the pressure and the roars that filled Ford Center, the Lakers played with poise and composure, and never lost sight of their goal of ending the series on this night.

The Lakers never allowed themselves to be swept up in the moment when the Thunder made their run, and this enabled them to be in a position to win the game at the end.

Of course people will say Gasol's tip-in was a matter of being in the right place at the right time, and I tend to agree, but everyone knows a little luck is needed when competing for a NBA championship.

The road to the title is perilous and many tight games are decided by how the ball bounces in the final seconds. The ball just didn't bounce the right way for the Thunder on this occasion.

So the Lakers are afforded the opportunity to survive and advance, and a title defense that many had described as dead on arrival has began to take a decidedly different look.

The mighty Western Conference has been defined by upsets this postseason as the Dallas Mavericks and Denver Nuggets have succumbed to the intensity of the playoffs.

The Mavericks and the Nuggets were the second and fourth seeds respectively and many felt those two teams represented the best chance of de-throning the Lakers in the west.

But now instead of facing a Denver team who beat them three times in the regular season, the Lakers will face the Utah Jazz, a team they defeated three out of four games in the regular season.

Deron Williams is a terrific point guard, and in my opinion the NBA's best, but he is the only player who holds an advantage in individual matchups with the Lakers, as the Lakers dominate in other areas.

Carlos Boozer is a tough player in the post, but he and Paul Milsap lack the length to defend Gasol and Andrew Bynum in the paint, and Odom is a nightmare matchup for anyone on the Utah roster.

I guess you could reasonably say the chips fell the right way for the Lakers, and to repeat as NBA champions this is another crucial element which cannot be discounted, because a team's run can be defined by matchups.

Something lost in the Lakers triumph over the Thunder is the fact they have been the NBA's best defensive team in the postseason, holding the Thunder to less than 40 percent shooting from the field.

Some of Oklahoma City's shooting woes can be blamed on youth, but it's hard to argue the defensive performance of Artest on Durant, and it's just as hard to debate the Lakers intensity on the defensive end.

I failed to mention Bryant had his best shooting night of the series, going 12-for-25 from the field with 32 points, and he chose to show restraint in his shot selection when it mattered the most.

Dare I say the Lakers are beginning to resemble their championship team of 2009?

The roster is admittedly battered and bruised after this series with Bryant, Artest, Odom, and Bynum nursing nagging injuries, but the disposition of the team is definitely different than a month ago.

The Lakers have found their rhythm and purpose, and the doors of fate have opened what could be a slightly easier path to the NBA Finals, but even if they dispatch of the Jazz, San Antonio potentially lurks.

It seems the Lakers re-evaluated themselves during the course of their series, and now their critics must do the same, because their arguments lack the same conviction as before.

Some Laker detractors based their belief on the Lakers' sub par showing in the regular season but the postseason is a different beast, and Los Angeles has adjusted accordingly.

The Lakers have the look of a team fully engaged with the task of defending their NBA championship, and contrary to what some believe, they will not go quietly into the night.

This doesn't mean the path to greatness is paved for the Lakers, because difficulties lie ahead, but it's beginning to look a little foolish to bet against them in their quest for glory.

Destiny and fate are related words and they are usually picky about whom they choose to grace, but is it possible the Lakers are now playing under their favor?

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