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.