Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Strangest Thing

Question: If the Western Conference was really so tough, why did the Lakers just get finished going 12-3 throughout it's playoff?

Answer: These Lakers are kind of awesome.

They beat the Spurs Thursday night, 100-92, at the Staples Center, to close out their WCF series in five games and advance to the Finals for the first time since 2004.

Yes, the West really was that good this year.

But the Lakers are that much better.

Next year, when Andrew Bynum finally returns from injury, the Lakers will be superhuman and unbeatable, as long as they stay healthy. You're looking at a potential 70-win team. I really mean that.

But for now, they'll settle for being merely ideal and superior.

What you are watching is the quintessential 21st century basketball team. They are the GM's ambition. Youthful, with just enough experience. Big, long, and athletic. Deep and versatile. Shooters from the outside. Passers. Two highly skilled big men.

More impressive than anything, though, they have Kobe. He scored 17of his 39 points in the 4th quarter of Game 5, with a hunger and ruthlessness all his own's. And Jordan's. Kobe has clearly reached Michael's level in the basketball stratosphere. The way he's playing right now, he's every bit as good as Jordan ever was, and to be completely honest with you, he might even be a little bit better. He has a much smoother and easier handle and is a more skilled pure scorer. Michael simply never displayed the kind of deftness Kobe has shown to possess; his arsenal just wasn't as full. In five-games against longtime nemesises Bruce Bowen, Kobe made 64-of-120 shots, a 53 percent clip. That's his highest mark ever in a playoff series. In three previous playoff series versus Bowen, he never shot above 46 percent (in the 2004 Western Semis). Bowen may have slowed a bit, but he's still a first-team all-league defender. The difference is that Kobe has risen to such a level that Bowen can no longer even make the game difficult for him. Bruce was nothing more than a prop for Kobe to show how good he is, just like J.R. Smith, Ronnie Brewer, Andrei Kirilenko, Matt Harpring, Ime Udoka, Manu Ginobili and anyone else (and the job Kenyon did on him in Game 1 of the Denver series proved to be a fluke when he wasn't able to even remotely duplicate it). Bowen made him shoot jumpers, but did it work? Even a little bit? Kobe is too good a jump shooter. There really is no such thing as a tough shot for Kobe Bryant anymore.

Mixed with Gasol and Odom, the Lakers have a big three that meshes together perfectly. Vladi, Luke, Farmar, The Machine, and Ronny complement them and each other. Statistically, Derek Fisher is almost identical to Smush Parker, but his coolhead, steadiness, and leadership - his ability to breed team chemistry, to bridge the gap between Kobe and the rest of the team - has been monumental in steering the team to where they are now.

Considered somewhat of a liabilty towards the end of his first stint in Los Angeles, he is now an undeniable strength.

Coach Jackson makes all the right moves from his throne, and perhaps none of his teams have made the triangle look as pretty as these guys do. Most of the time it's seamless and beautiful, just like their transition into a fast break.

If this sounds a little premature, a little too much like a coronation of more than just a Western Conference champion, a little too much like I'm handing the Lakers the Larry O' right now...well, it's because I am. No one is beating the Lakers as long as Kobe is playing at this level, with this desire, with this kind of supporting talent, with Phil doing the strategizing and overseeing.

Prepare for the beginning of Kobe's very own dynasty. It is just as imminent as it was unlikely a year ago.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Kobe Bryant - The Innate Ability

Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2008 NBAE (Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)

1. Possessed at birth; inborn.
2. Possessed as an essential characteristic; inherent.

Kobe Bryant has been destroying all facets of defense during these 2008 Playoffs. Whether it was Kenyon Martin with the Denver Nuggets (Round 1), Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver, Andrei Kirilenko, CJ Miles od the Utah Jazz (Round 2), and now Bruce Bowen or Ime Udoka with the San Antonio Spurs (Conference Finals), The Black Mamba has not been stopped. Shooting near 50 percent from the field with under 20 shot attempts a game, his ability has been showcased to his maximum potential.

I found this series of videos on by that displayed the jumpshot that all veteran Lakers fans have grown to appreciate.
A tribute to the most famous right hand in this NBA season.

Kobe Bryant - The Innate Ability:
Kobe Bryant - The Innate Ability 2:
Kobe Bryant - The Innate Ability 3:
Can you feel the chills??
Kudos to the guys at
To be continued...

Friday, May 23, 2008

Kobe's got the game beat

Mastery of anything is rare.

One day maybe I'll master this writing thing. Or drawing. The chances of either happening are both so highly improbable that it borders on the impossible. I did once master NBA 2K3 (for the PS2). I realized that there was one move that worked everytime on offense (a pump fake followed by a strong drive and dunk) and just did it again and again. On defense I never controlled the player who was guarding the guy with the ball. That was it. After awhile, I no longer had to think about it. It became second nature, and I became UNSTOPPABLE. Anyone who's ever played video games knows what I'm talking about.

Mozart mastered music. Picasso mastered art. Ken Jennings mastered Jeopardy. James Gandolfini mastered how to play Tony Soprano. Michael K. Williams did the same with Omar Little. Bob Barker mastered how to host "The Price Is Right" (which is to say he mastered how to be Bob Barker). And I think Ryan Seacrest has reached a similar level on "American Idol."

But as far as athletes go? I don't know enough about hockey to say whether or not Gretzky ever perfected it. I don't know if Tiger has mastered golf, either, even though he's the best ever at it. Same with MJ.

But in Kobe Bryant we have found, definitively, an athlete who has become a true expert of his craft. He is a basketball maestro. If you play a video game long enough it gets to the point that you outsmart the game. You become more intelligent than the artificial intelligence. That is what Koe has done with basketball. There is no challenge that the game can present him that he isn't prepared for. He knows all the answers to the test, as corny as that sounds. Kobe's spent his entire life trying to get to this point. He has studied the game of basketball incessantly. He got the bank shot from Duncan and this ridiculously fluid spin move - really, he does it all in one motion - from Gary Payton (you may remember it from the 2003 40-point streak). There is no defense that he hasn't seen or isn't able to counter, either by shot or by pass, and all he needs is a split second to decide. In Game 1 of the Spurs series, there was a play where he pump faked Ginobili into the popcorn machine, went up and under, and glassed it in. He's able to find Gasol under the basket with absolute precision. Phil Jackson once said (or maybe wrote, in the tell-all, I don't remember for sure) that Kobe knows the triangle better than he does. He's now played in 143 playoff games, and his ability to score in crunch time is Jordanesque: Wednesday night, with the score tied at 85 and less than 30 seconds left, one-on-one against Bruce Bowen, Kobe drove into the lane, right above the foul line, gave Bowen a little bump to create space, and hit a short jumper for what would turn out to be the game-winner. Bowen tried to sell a foul and Kobe got a wide-open look; no matter what, Kobe was getting a very good shot at the basket.

Kobe has been coldly efficient and well-rounded this postseason (31.8 points on 50.4 percent shooting to go along with 6.8 assists through 12 games, of which the Lakers have won 10). Aside from Game 4 of the Utah series he hasn't really forced anything. He's just picking his spots brilliantly. More than ever, he knows when to take over and when to take a step back. He's got the game beat. And that's why the Spurs were done even before they blew a 20-point lead in Game 1 and lost by 30 in Game 2. That's why the Pistons and Celtics are already done. Kobe Bryant has become the new Bobby Fischer, only with a basketball instead of a pawn, and there's nothing and no one that can stop him.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Ya'll musta forgot

Tonight on TNT, The Chuckster stated that he believes that this current Lakers team is the best Kobe has played on. Kenny and especially Chris Webber went absolutely nuts. So then Barkley said "potentially." Finally Charles stated that he simply thought that this Lakers team had more overall talent. Webb conceded that, yes, this team does have more talent from top to bottom, and that, yes, they have the potential to win several championships in the coming years. But that didn't change the dominant, exasperated argument from Kenny and Chris: in a word, Shaq. Webb said five Gasols couldn't mess with Shaq. Kenny said that Shaq supercedes the superior talent of this Lakers team. They're all right: this Lakers team has more talent, but Shaq in his prime is more valuable than any of it. There's no way this Lakers team would beat that Lakers team in a seven-game series. Gasol would've been a complete non-factor. Shaq would've swallowed him whole. He would've fouled out in every game. Gasol's obviously no Mutombo defensively, and he lacks the caginess of a Sabonis or a Vlade, so ... Then they would have brought in Turiaf. He would've fouled out in 6 minutes. I'd give Mihm three minutes. Defensively Shaq was the kind of presence Gasol could only dream to be. The Deeziest would've been the difference all by himself.

And hey...Rick Fox, Bob Horry, Derek Fisher, Brian Shaw, Ron Harper, Glen Rice, Lindsey Hunter, Horace Grant, even Devean George and Ty Lue...I mean, these aren't nobodies. Not by a long stretch. We're talking about people that knew how to win basketball games in May and June.

I guess to mention Kobe is pretty much besides the point, but I'd just like to point out that while the Kobe of today is playing basketball as well as it's ever been played, even back then, when he was barely old enough to drink, he was still the best all-around player alive.

Anyways, don't ever forget how unstoppable Shaq was in his prime. Did you see Webber's reaction? That says it all. We watched it on TV and from the stands, but it takes someone who actually experienced it up close and personal to fully grasp what it was like.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Hornets not ready yet, Spurs will win Game 7

"If anything in this life is certain, if history has taught us anything, it's that you can kill anyone."

Sorry to go all Simmons on you, but I'm sure you all recognize that quote, from "The Godfather Part II," when Michael disputes Tom's assertion that it would be impossible to kill Hyman Roth, because there's no way they could get to him. In reference to the upcoming Game 7 in the already certified-classic Spurs-Hornets series, I would like to offer a variation of that line:

"If anything in this life is certain, if history has taught us anything, it's that a young team with no collective playoff experience doesn't just up and beat a battle-tested championship team like the Spurs in the playoffs. In the NBA, you must fail before you can succeed."

Chris Paul is a child prodigy and a superdupersuperstar. David West is simply a stud. Tyson Chandler is a walking double-double and a human pogo-stick. Peja is still Peja. Julian Wright is a future star off the bench, and Jannero Pargo (as good a backup point guard as there is, basically) joins him.

This is a very good basketball team. They're better than anyone thought they were, even after winning 56 games in the most competitive conference ever. And next year, they'll be ready for anything.

But not this year. Not against this team. Not in this Game 7.

The fact that it has gone this far is a testament to the talent of the great CP3, currently playing his position as well as it's ever been played. But even MJ had to get dumped from the playoffs a few times by Detroit before he and the Jordanaires got over the hump. And before them, those same Pistons had to get demonized by the Celtics. The nubile Shaq-Kobe Lakers got their knocks from Utah. You gotta take your lumps first.

Monday's contest (why do we have to wait four days?) will come down to experience, for the Spurs, and a lackthereof, for the Hornets. Plain and simple. It will come down to the final moments. You'll see nervous, confused, never-been-there before looks on the faces of the upstart bugs. Probably a couple costly turnovers, a few mental mistakes. A missed chippy or two that went in when they were up by 20 in Game 1.

Meanwhile, the Spurs will be calm but urgent in their execution, and they will take advantage of every Hornets miscue. They will rise to the occasion, while New Orleans will be crushed by it's pressure. Or perhaps the Spurs will just take it from them. Same thing, really. Either way, they fall just short. Either way, they get schooled in big-time, serious playoff basketball. The Spurs will prove to be the better team not because they have better players or longer arms or livelier athletes, but because they know what to do in the heartwrenching moments that define this time of year, and the Hornets do not.

And then, next year, the two teams will meet again. The Hornets will be year better, while the Spurs will be a year older. And using that lesson learned, N'awlins will oust the elderly Spurs in symbolic sweepness, or something similar. Maybe it won't be 4-0, but it will be convincing. It will leave no doubt that the New West Order has officially begun. The Old giving way to the New.

But this year? The old is still young enough, and the young is not old enough yet.

Spurs in 7.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Yeah, you can call it a guarantee

The Spurs are not done yet.

I don't know a lot of things. I don't know if Tony Soprano is dead or alive. I don't know if Beyonce is pregnant or not. And I don't know how to solve a nonlinear equation by graphing.

But I do know one thing: The Spurs are going to beat the Hornets in Game 6.

Game 5 wasn't even over yet, and I had already made up my mind. The Hornets were putting the finishing touches on a 101-79 win, and TNT panned over to Tim Duncan, sitting stoically on the Spurs bench. You know what it means when Tim Duncan is behaving stoically, right?

That he's being Tim Duncan. Yeah.

But he shot only 5-18 from the floor Tuesday night, for a total of 10 points (although he did pull down 23 rebounds), and while he played well in Game 4, he has yet to have that signature Tim Duncan Playoff Game thus far against New Orleans.

Now the defending champions are facing elimination Thursday at the SBC Center. The last time the Spurs, as defending champeens, played a win-or-die postseason game at home, in Game 7 two years ago against Dallas, Duncan had 41 points and 15 rebounds (I know they lost, but still).

Do you get my drift? When you add 2+2, does it equal 4? Huge game for Duncan on Thursday.

San Antonio will feed him early and often in Game 6, and he will set the tone. Their seasoned crowd will be raucous and ready to explode at every made basket. Pops will incite his club to execute ruthlessly and efficiently and they will compete with unyeilding passion. Parker will wheel and deal into the lane and keep the defense on it's heels. Ginobili will attack relentlessly and finish spectacularly. Bowen will drain threes from the corners. Finley will hit a few from the top and we might even get a couple of Robert Horry Moments. The young, upstart Hornets will be overwhelmed and swallowed up by the moment, and then we will do it once more Monday in Louisiana, the final meeting (at least this year) in this stirring battle of old versus new.