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Kobe and the Lakers Will Win Tonight, Bring Home Another Title

Come on, it was destined to go seven games. The Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics will battle to become the newest NBA champion when they square off in Game 7 tonight. Every game of this series has felt like a Game 7 and there is no reason to believe tonight will be any different, but at the same time it’s hard to imagine the Lakers not pulling this one out when it’s all said and done.

After the Celtics took a commanding 3-2 lead following a Game 5 win, it was strange to see how calm the Lakers were and how the momentum, that should have been in Boston’s favor, was still even at best. With the Lakers going back home for the next game and a potential Game 7, many assumed the Lakers still had the advantage. One game later, that assumption is now fact.

A Game 6 blowout win for the Lakers, led by Kobe Bryant’s 29 points and Pau Gasol’s near triple-double, has them feeling extremely confident as they prepare for the series finale at home. No one in the Western Conference had a better home record (34-7) than the Lakers this season, and they are 10-1 in the playoffs when playing at the Staples Center.

The personnel factor is also in the Lakers’ favor, as Boston’s Kendrick Perkins has been ruled out of tonight’s game after tearing knee ligaments early in Game 6, while LA’s Andrew Bynum is expected to play through a sore knee. Perkins hadn’t made much of a dent in the box score this series (averaging 5.8 points and 5.8 rebounds), but his defensive impact in the paint was something the Celtics will not be able to replicate. The team that has won the rebounding stat is 6-0 in the series, meaning Boston could be in deep trouble.

The Celtics have been great this season, but it's hard to bet against Kobe Bryant in a Game 7 at home. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Instead, Doc Rivers and the Celtics will counter with a combination of Rasheed Wallace, Glen “Big Baby” Davis, and Shelden Williams. What was once considered to be an advantage for the Celtics in the series, their bench disappeared in Game 6 and will have to be expanded further tonight with the loss of Perkins. On the other hand, the Lakers bench combined for 25 points and stifling defense that contributed to the win. With the crowd behind them and the Celtics now being forced to jumble rotations up after 90+ games, the tides have turned in the bench department.

For as much as an NBA title would mean to each franchise, with the Lakers looking for back-to-back titles and the Celtics looking for title No. 18, there are also personal accomplishments and even legacies on the line. Phil Jackson looks for his 11th NBA title in the last 20 years (he’ll also receive a $2 million bonus from the Lakers) and Adam Morrison will attempt to bring home his second title in as many years. OK, that was a joke.

But when it’s all said and done, the spotlight will be on one player and one player only: Kobe Bryant. It’s near impossible for a player with four titles, an MVP trophy, and a Finals MVP to have his legacy determined by one game, and tonight will be no exception. Bryant and the Lakers had the most talented roster from top to bottom, but the Celtics are competing closely to be considered the league’s best unit. A loss by the Lakers won’t ruin __ incredible seasons from Bryant, but at the same time a win could make his legacy that much stronger.

With a win tonight, Bryant would rack up his fifth NBA title as well as his second NBA Finals MVP (which he might do even if the Lakers lose). It would put him that much closer in the debate over best ever and put him one more Finals closer to Michael Jordan. He hasn’t reached Jordan by any means just yet, but a win tonight puts him that much closer to one day doing so.

This game could go down to the wire, and each team will make their respective runs in the game, but it’s awfully hard to imagine Bryant walking off his home court as the Celtics celebrate an NBA title. He hasn’t been spectacular in the Finals and he’s got one heck of a supporting cast around him, but tonight’s game will be won or lost by Kobe Bryant. I won’t be betting against him when the lights go on.

June 17, 2010 Posted by | Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, NBA, NBA Finals | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Lakers-Magic: Six Keys To Success Revisited

Before the start of the 2009 NBA Finals, six keys were brought to the table as the things that either the Magic or the Lakers would need to do in order to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy at the end of the series.  Let’s take a look at how each of these keys played out in the five games that took place.

1. Will Dwight Howard take over the series or can someone slow him down?

The 6’11” manchild averaged 15.4 points and 15.2 rebounds per game in the series and overall played pretty well.  However, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum did enough to make sure that he did not take over the series. It became evident as the games went on that Howard does not have very many moves in his arsenal down low.  Also, the Lakers did a good job of denying Howard the ball, which on occasion, led to offensive fouls.

Defensively, Howard really played exceptionally well.  He averaged 2.6 blocks per game including a nine-swat performance in game four and shutdown the Lakers frontcourt pretty well.  Pau Gasol got his expected averages of 18.6 points and 9.2 rebounds, but outside of him the Lakers were quiet in the paint.  It seemed that only Kobe was able to get in the lane and do any damage.  Unfortuantely, that was enough.

Overall, Howard had an excellent series but, outside of Game 4 on defense, he never took over a game like he did against Cleveland.  The Lakers took this key and it proved to be big for the Lakers.

2. Can the Lakers step up their three point defense or will the Magic shoot freely?

In what would prove to be the biggest key to the series (as it had been for the Magic the whole playoffs), the Lakers stepped up big and did not allow the Magic to beat them from beyond the arc.

Mickael Pietrus struggled all series to get shots off.

Mickael Pietrus struggled all series to get shots off.

For the series, the Magic were 38 of 115 from downtown, good for a 33 percent average.  That percentage and the 7.6 threes they made per game were both down from their season averages (10 3pg, 38.1 percent) and playoff averages (8.4 3pg, 36 percent).  They shot the same amount of threes as their playoff average at 23 per game but they did not fall.

While it was evident the Magic were trying to work the ball into Howard, the transition game never got going and because of it, the Lakers took this key as well.

3. Can Orlando find their “X-Factor” to cancel out Lamar Odom?

No, they could not.  Odom, while his numbers were not huge, played a key role in the Lakers bringing home the title.  As did Trevor Ariza, who single-handedly brought the Lakers back in game four, scoring 11 of the Lakers’ 13 points during a key run.  Odom shot 54 percent from the field and put in 13.2 points per game while grabbing almost eight rebounds.  Foul trouble cost him some minutes but overall Odom was huge.

Ariza played solid in Orlando after having two terrible games in the Staples Center.  He played his usual fantasitc defense and was a spark in the Lakers’ lineup.

The problem was that the Magic were looking for a player to cancel out these two role players and could not get it done.  In the preview, we mentioned Mickael Pietrus as an X-factor type guy that could have a big impact on the series.

It was interesting to note that in Pietrus’ only real good game of the series, game three, the Magic won.  Outside of that game, the France native never got anything going and struggled much of the series to find his shot.  He only shot 12 threes in the entire series.

4. Can Jameer Nelson give the Magic good minutes or will he just mess with the chemistry?

I really thought this was going to be one of the biggest factors going into the series and it is up for debate on whether or not it actually mattered.  In no game did Nelson receive more minutes than starter Rafer Alston, but after game one Alston said that Nelson being in the game threw him off.  While some saw it as an excuse for Alston’s two for nine shooting slump, I fully believed him.

Kobe Bryant deserved to win it all this year, and that is exactly what he did.

Kobe Bryant deserved to win it all this year, and that is exactly what he did.

Coincidentally, the only the game the Magic won in this series, Alston played the most minutes of any game and Nelson played the least.  It’s one thing for a player to be out for some of the playoffs and come back and try to mesh with the team.

Nelson, however, had missed over half the season and tried to play with a team that had already decided Alston was their guy.  The two are similar in style of play but it didn’t matter as Nelson looked lost on the court at times, and Alston was clearly frusterated.

I believe that Nelson did more harm than good in the series and that game four would have been different had Alston received more minutes.  Head coach Stan Van Gundy said Nelson was part of a unit in that game that had played well and that is why he stuck with Nelson over Alton for the fourth quarter and overtime.

I am sure Van Gundy would have liked the extra two inches Alston would have given him playing defense on Derek Fisher as time ran down and Fisher made the game-tying three.

5. Which team will take advantage of the home court advantage first?

The Lakers did an excellent job of taking games one and two of the series to make it near impossible for the Magic to come back in the series.  Who knows what would have been different had Courtney Lee made the last-second shot in game two?

It was hard to imagine Orlando taking either one of the first two games but they definitely had their shots to tie the series back up playing at home.  Kobe and the Lakers proved to be just too much as they would end up hoisting the trophy in Orlando.

6. Will Kobe Bryant make this his series or will the Magic make someone else beat them?

As much as the Magic tried not to let Kobe beat them, there is still a reason he is the best player on the planet and hoisted the Bill Russell Finals MVP Award at the end of the series.  Double teams came.  They hacked him in the paint and wrapped him up whenever possible.

None of it mattered.

As much as I wanted to make this a key to the series, it was hard for me to believe that Kobe was not going to take over the series and do everything he possibly could to win it all.  He did so, averaged 34.2 points per game, 7.8 assists!, and 5.6 rebounds.

There was nobody in the gym that could stop him or even slow him down.  As much as I hate that Pau Gasol has a ring, I am unbelievably happy that Kobe finally has a ring to fully call his own.

June 15, 2009 Posted by | Basketball, Los Angeles Lakers, NBA, NBA Finals, Orlando Magic | , , | Leave a comment

Lakers-Magic NBA Finals Preview: 6 Keys To Success

What, you thought I wasn’t going to write something about the Finals?  The Los Angeles Lakers host the Orlando Magic tonight in a best of seven series to determine NBA’s champion.  Most experts are picking the Lakers to take the series in six or seven games, but the arrival of Jameer Nelson has given some doubts about the Lakers rolling.  These five keys will be crucial in determining who stands last at the end of the series.

1. Will Dwight Howard take over the series or can someone slow him down?

I almost finished the question with “can someone stop him?” before realizing that it’s near impossible to stop Superman.  In the playoffs, Howard is averaging 21.7 points and 15.4 rebounds and has a double-double in all but one game.  What’s even scarier is that his free throw percentage is up almost ten points to 65 percent, making it less than a guarantee for him to miss one when he is fouled.

Trying to stop Howard will be the combination of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum…good luck.  Bynum has failed miserably at giving the Lakers any solid minutes while in the lineup as he has averaged just 17 minutes in the playoffs this year.  He is more of a liability than a presence on offense and his defense has been less than stellar.

Can Andrew Bynum stop this sight from happening?

Can Andrew Bynum stop this sight from happening?

There is no room for error going up against Howard and if Gasol guards him, it will get ugly.  In game six against the Cavs, Howard took over the extra period and showed no signs of slowing down.  Both Gasol and Bynum will have to, in a sense, “take turns” with Howard trying to keep him away from the basket.

2. Can the Lakers step up their three point defense or will the Magic shoot freely?

Everyone knows Orlando’s game runs on the three point shot and Los Angeles has had trouble stopping it this year.  Orlando made 12 threes in each of the games they played Los Angeles in the regular season.  The Lakers, like Cleveland, defend the three point shot very well but with Howard owning the paint, double teams might be necessary.

Because of that, whether or not the Lakers can close out on shooters will be huge.  This goes back to Bynum and Gasol being able to stop Howard by themselves.  In Orlando’s playoff wins this year, they have shot 39.2 percent from downtown, while in losses they have shot just 32 percent.

While one would expect percentages to be down in losses, the gap here is bigger than usual.  They shoot around the same amount of threes every game (24 in wins, 22 in losses), so it’s a matter of whether or not they go in.

3. Can Orlando find their “X-Factor” to cancel out Lamar Odom?

Odom has had such an up-and-down season but has carried on through it all.  His hard work has paid off as he has been given the opportunity to play large minutes for Phil Jackson and has answered that call.  All of his numbers are up in the playoffs and it seems as though the Lakers go as Odom goes.

Mickael Pietrus could hold the key for the sharpshooting Magic.

Mickael Pietrus could hold the key for the sharpshooting Magic.

For Orlando, Mickael Pietrus is the reason Orlando has had so much success from beyond the arc.  Pietrus is 33-84 (39 percent) in the playoffs and played about as good of defense on LeBron James as humanly possible.  Coming off the bench, he will have the fun responsibility of guarding Kobe Bryant whenever he is in.

For Odom, he will more than likely be guarding Hedo Turkoglu and have to play solid defense as Turkoglu can do just about everything on the court.  The better performer of these two players just might determine the outcome of the series.

4. Can Jameer Nelson give the Magic good minutes or will he just mess with the chemistry?

Everyone was amazed to hear that Jameer Nelson was going to be activated to the roster for the Finals, even after Magic officials said there was no chance he would play.  Now the question is what can he bring to the table?  In the two regular season meetings, the would have been All-Star averaged 27.5 points for the Magic and was the best performer Orlando threw out there.

However, why would you want to mess with a team that has just won the Eastern Conference and whose backcourt seems to be meshing as good as it has all year?  I’m all for Nelson gutting it out and trying to play (he will not play in Game one), but how will this affect Rafer Alston’s minutes and will it also throw off his rhythym?  Hopefully these questions are answered in a positive way for the Magic, but I am not as confident that this is the right move.

5. Which team will take advantage of the home court advantage first?

The Magic are 7-2 at home in the playoffs and the Lakers are 8-1 at the Staples Center, so the ability to steal a win on the road will be both tough but important.  With the NBA’s odd 2-3-2 format, the Magic will have a chance to take a huge advantage in the series if they can take games one or two.

However, unless they go out and dominate the series in five games, they will have to win the series in Los Angeles.  For the Lakers, winning games one and two would secure a return back to LA for a game six and potential game seven.  The stakes are greater and games at home, especially for the Magic, will be key.

Will Kobe finally win a trophy to call his own?

Will Kobe finally win a trophy to call his own?

6. Will Kobe Bryant make this his series or will the Magic make someone else beat them?

While it’s true Mickael Pietrus did a good job guarding LeBron James, the King still went for 38 points per game and was pretty much unstoppable.  In guarding Kobe, Pietrus will have to always have a hand in his face and never let him get out of sight.  Kobe is not as quick as James is in getting to the hole but has a much better jump shot. With Howard sitting in the paint, Pietrus must make Kobe beat him off the dribble and hope for a pass.

As it goes for Kobe, he says he has been waiting for this moment forever.  He finally has his team in the driver’s seat and he is the main part that makes the machine run.  He knows what is at stake for his team and that this is his last best chance to take home a title.  I have always said Kobe has never received enough credit for being such a good teammate, and he will need to rely on those teammates to beat a very balanced Magic team.

Everything runs through Bryant for the Lakers and the table is set for him to take over this series.  Will the Magic let him?

June 4, 2009 Posted by | Basketball, Los Angeles Lakers, NBA, NBA Finals, Orlando Magic | , , | 1 Comment

My Take: 25 Questions on 24 vs. 23

Earlier today, I was reading an article on that paneled seven experts from the website and compared LeBron James and Kobe Bryant in 25 categories.  You can read the article and results here, but here’s my take on each of the categories. (In parentheses after the question is the result of the ESPN vote).

1. Who Has Better Nicknames? (Kobe wins 4-3)

Kobe goes by “Black Mamba” while LeBron is called “The Chosen One” and “King James”.  Personally, I can not figure out why Kobe won this one.  Most reporters and analysts refer to LeBron as “King James” while the Black Mamba is much less known to most.  My Take: LeBron

2. Who Makes Better Commercials? (LeBron wins 7-0)

I have to agree with the analysts here as LeBron has put out some very good commercials recently.  “The LeBrons” are hilarious and I can not remember the last commercial that Kobe did for Nike.  My Take: LeBron

3. Who Would Win A Spelling Bee? (Kobe wins 7-0)

Kobe seems like a smarter guy than LeBron to start with, but the fact that Kobe knows Italian gives him the easy edge here.  He definitely has his languages down pat and would take the spelling bee.  My Take: Kobe

A one-on-game between the Black Mamba and King James would be one for the ages.

A one-on-game between the Black Mamba and King James would be one for the ages.

4. Whose Tell-All Twitter Feed Would You Rather Follow? (LeBron wins 5-2)

LeBron is quite the jokester and, being younger, seems to have more fun off the court.  He is very good friends with Jay-Z and I would love to see what the two of them do on a regular basis.  LeBron is definitely a fun dude.  My Take: LeBron

5. Who Will Have The More Interesting Life After Basketball? (LeBron wins 4-3)

LeBron may gain more maturity as he goes on, but right now he is all about being in the spotlight and making as much money as he can.  While there is nothing wrong with that, I can see him being in the business world (somewhat like MJ) well after he is done on the court.  My Take: LeBron

6. Who Would Win a 100-Meter Race? (LeBron wins 6-1)

Watching LeBron on the fast break leads me to believe he would take this category.  Kobe plays outstanding defense and is very quick but James’ strides would take Kobe in this one.  My Take: LeBron

7. Who Would Win A Marathon? (Kobe wins 7-0)

I have to go ahead and agree with the analysts here that Kobe would take the cake in a marathon.  The guy seems to never get tired down the stretch, regardless of how many minutes he has played.  My Take: Kobe

8. Who Would Be The Better Football Player? (LeBron wins 6-1)

This is really interesting because I don’t know what position LeBron would play.  Wide receiver makes the most sense, but at 6’8″, is he too big?  I am going to take Kobe here because I think he would play wide receiver and dominate.  He’s the perfect size (6’5″) and at this point is probably a little more agile than LeBron.  King James is a physical freak, but Kobe is no slouch. My Take: Kobe

9. Who Would Be The Better Soccer Player? (Kobe wins 7-0)

Not too fond of this question, but the agility and endurance factor that Kobe has makes me believe he would be the better soccer player.  He can also speak Italian, so yeah. My Take: Kobe

10. Who Would Win In The Octagon? (LeBron wins 6-1)

Both of these guys have the heart of a champion but LeBron’s size advantage has to give him the nod here.  He is a physical specimen and has close to 60 pounds on Kobe.  No one can stop LeBron as he goes through the lane, so I’d hate to see someone have to stop him as he does the same thing without a basketball.  My Take: LeBron

It's hard to argue with what LeBron James did on the high school hardwood.

It's hard to argue with what LeBron James did on the high school hardwood.

11. Who Had The Better High School Years? (LeBron wins 7-0)

This is a tough one for Kobe who was absolutely dominant in high school.  Unfortunately, LeBron was just as good and had ESPN in his high school every waking moment. He went undefeated his senior year and won a state title with four of his best friends.  My Take: LeBron

12. Who Was Better At Age 24? (LeBron wins 6-1)

Kobe did have a pair of rings when he was 24 years old, but having Shaquille O’Neal on his team will always make people wonder.  LeBron has done everything on his own and is poised to make a championship run this year with absolutely no help.  Tough call here but I have to go with King James.  My Take:LeBron

13. Who Has Had The Better Career So Far? (Kobe wins 7-0)

Kind of an unfair question as there is no argument for LeBron.  Kobe has been around much longer and has the three rings that LeBron does not.  At 30 years old, Kobe is still performing at such a high rate that LeBron is not even gaining that much ground on him.  My Take: Kobe

14. Who Will Finish With The Better Career? (LeBron wins 7-0)

Just because LeBron took home all seven votes does not mean it was by that much.  Stat-wise, LeBron will surpass Kobe in just about every category but the verdict is still out on whether or not LeBron will win three (or more titles).  I’ll give it to James by a hair.  My Take: LeBron

Kobe Bryant does not get enough credit for the wisdom and coaching he gives to his teammates.

Kobe Bryant does not get enough credit for the wisdom and coaching he gives to his teammates.

15. Who Is A Better Leader? (Lebron wins 6-1)

Everyone knows about how the Cavaliers bench has more fun than any team in the NBA and how LeBron can corral a team and make them all believe.  However, I am one of the few that believes Kobe gets the short end on how good of a teammate he really is.  Ballhog or not, Kobe makes everyone around him better and is great on the bench and off the court.  Give me Kobe all day.  My Take: Kobe

16. Who Has Had Better Dunks? (LeBron wins 6-1)

This was one of the easier ones for me to pick as LeBron has some of the most amazing dunks that I have ever seen.  It’s not just on the fast break that he does it, either.  He will drive to the hoop where two defenders are waiting and still throw it down.  He elevates like no one else I have seen and can get the crowd going with a slam home.  My Take: LeBron

17. Who Will Finish With More MVP Titles? (LeBron wins 7-0)

Considering that LeBron has already tied Kobe I will have to go with him in a landslide here.  Steve Nash has more MVP awards than Kobe and he has gotten hosed on a few trophies, but that is neither here nor there.  I will go out on a limb and say that LeBron will have at least five MVP’s when it is all said and done (same as MJ).  My Take: LeBron

18. Who Will Finish With More Rings? (LeBron wins 4-3)

I believe that Kobe will add another ring to his collection this year, giving him four.  I can not see LeBron ending his career with more than four so I will give this one to the Black Mamba.  A lot of people do not understand just what it takes to win a championship, let alone three.  My Take: Kobe

19. Whom Would You Rather Have On Your Pick-up Team? (LeBron wins 4-3)

ESPN analysts Henry Abbott made a great point that changed my mind on this one.  I was going to take Kobe, but his comment:

“Whom would you pick? The super intense guy who often reams out his teammates … or the freakishly big, strong guy who passes willingly and loves a good joke?”

made me change my pick to LeBron.  He knows when to laugh during a game but can also turn that switch and take over a game.  Regardless of who I pick, my team has a pretty good shot at winning this pick-up game. My Take: LeBron

20. Who Is The Truer Heir to MJ? (Kobe wins 6-1)

I fully believe that Kobe is the closest player we will ever see to MJ.  LeBron is flashy, gets the crowd involved, and has some pretty cool basketball shoes, but the way Kobe handles himself and acts on the court is very much like MJ.  I do not think either will ever be considered better than MJ, but Kobe is closer. My Take: Kobe

21. Who Would Win A One-on-One Game? (Kobe wins 5-2)

Kobe has the best mid-range jumpshot in the NBA and that would be key for him winning a game against LeBron.  Bryant does an excellent job guarding James when the two meet in games so I do not think the size factor would come into play as much as one would think. My Take: Kobe

22. One Game, One Guy: Whom Would You Pick? (LeBron wins 4-3)

Just because of what Kobe has been through in his career, I give him the nod today.  In six years, I probably go with LeBron but he just is not experienced enough.  Sure, he has been to the Finals but look how he fared in that.  Kobe is as clutch in big games as they come.  My Take: Kobe

23. 24 Seconds to Play, Down Two: Who Gets The Ball? (Kobe wins 6-1)

The way I looked at this question was who is going to give me the best chance of tying the game up for my team.  That guy is LeBron.  No one is better than A) winding down the clock and pulling up from 25 feet out and B) driving to the hole and drawing a foul.  Because of those two factors, I’ll take LeBron getting me two points at the end.  My Take: LeBron

24. Who Gets The Last Shot? (Kobe gets 5-2)

Now this question is different from the last.  For a last second shot, outside of MJ, there is no one else’s hands I would want the ball in more than Kobe.  He is as clutch as they come and has the experience to take the last shot.  It would probably go in, too.  My Take: Kobe

Kobe and LeBron should go down as the second and third best players of all-time.

Kobe and LeBron should go down as the second and third best players of all-time.

25. Who Is Better? (LeBron wins 4-3)

Ugghhh, they would ask this at the end, wouldn’t they?  At the beginning of the year, I would drop everything to watch LeBron and within about two minutes of watching, he would have my jaw on the ground with something amazing he did.  However, the more I thought about it, being flashy does not make you better.

Don’t get me wrong, LeBron is right at the top of the list and you can clearly make a case for him as the best player basketball in the world.  The point is that even though LeBron can jump out of the gym and resurrect a franchise in five years, Kobe still does it all.

He has been through SO much in his career and still perseveres through it all.  Maybe he has me fooled, but I believe he is a great teammate and even better person that has everything you look for in a superstar.  My Final Take: Kobe

*It was interesting to note that of the 25 categories, LeBron had my vote in seven of the 11 non-basketball related questions.

When it came to basketball related questions, Kobe had seven of my votes compared to six for LeBron.  The two most important questions, in my opinion, also went to Kobe (more rings and last shot).

May 26, 2009 Posted by | Basketball, LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers, NBA | , | 9 Comments