Thursday, May 5, 2011

Lakers shot at three-peat losing steam

(photo courtesy of

It's been a while since I wrote about the NBA playoffs, pretty much ever since the Knicks were knocked out. I've been watching, but it's been as an impartial observer and someone who doesn't really care. Until now.

For the record, I thought the Grizzlies would beat the Spurs in the West and face the Thunder in the second round (you probably don't believe me). I also thought the Trail Blazers would knock off Dallas before losing to the Lakers, setting up an Oklahoma City-Los Angeles Western Conference Finals.

Now, the possibility still exists for a Memphis-Dallas series in the next round, as the Grizzlies stole Game 1 in Oklahoma City and have home-court advantage against the Thunder. Dallas, meanwhile, took the first two games in Los Angeles and put the Lakers in the precarious position of having to win two games on the road to come back in the series; and that's if they hold home court when they head back to Staples Center.

Much has been made of the Lakers' inability to hit jump shots in the first two games of the series, but their chemistry has been lacking on both ends of the floor. Kobe Bryant has taken 49 shots in the series and dished out just three assists while the frontcourt of Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom has been inconsistent.

Bynum had just eight points in Game 1, Odom had just six points last night and Gasol is averaging just 14 points per game in the series after scoring just 13.5 per game against the Hornets. Everybody thought when the Lakers showed vulnerability in their opening-round series that they would be able to flip the switch for this series. It hasn't happened.

While their frontcourt has struggled, their backcourt has shown its age. Bryant isn't as young and spry as he once was and Derek Fisher is a fossil. Jason Kidd is no spring chicken himself but he still competes defensively and does a great job of finding teammates in positions where they can be successful. Sprinkle in the youthful energy of J.J. Barea (who has a hot girlfriend) and the Lakers have had issues containing the Dallas backcourt.

Magic Johnson tweeted that the Lakers' chances of coming back are slim and he's right. I do remember the 2006 NBA Finals when Dallas won the first two games, albeit at home, against the Heat only to four straight. But this is a fundamentally different Mavericks team thanks to one player: Tyson Chandler.

Before coming to Dallas in the off-season, Chandler thought the Mavericks were "soft." He has certainly changed that and, as one of the NBA's few true centers, his impact has been felt on both ends of the floor. While the vaunted Lakers' big men have struggled, Chandler and Brendan Haywood have provided the interior presence Dallas has been missing over the past few seasons.

As a Knicks fan, I've stated my desires for Chandler in the Big Apple numerous times. The impact he could have on the Knicks would be very similar to the one he's had for Mark Cuban's squad. But if Dallas continues past the Lakers and gets back to the NBA Finals, possibly for a 2006 rematch with Miami, I'm not sure they'll be so willing to let Chandler go.

Speaking of the Heat, they have the Celtics in an 0-2 hole as well. Boston, however, gets to go back home while the Lakers have to hit the road. I thought Miami would be the team to come out of the East before the playoffs started and nothing I've seen through their first seven games has changed my thoughts.

The Heat are clicking at the right time; it only took the entire season. But everybody knows how meaningless won-loss records and the NBA regular season as a whole is; it amounts to one long, grueling practice for the playoffs, when real basketball begins. And I'm going to continue to enjoy the ride even with the Knicks watching from home.

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