With the MLB season heating up, it’s only appropriate to talk about basketball. Derrick Rose is wowing, Dwight Howard is plowing, and Carmelo Anthony’s Knicks are souring. In the meantime, the Lakers of Los Angeles are taking care of business in a way that skeptics may find difficult to believe. I say to you, without qualification, LA is going to win the NBA Championship in 2011. There is no doubt in my mind any longer.
This article will explicate – both for reasons internal and external to the Lakers organization – why this is the case. I want to go on record as saying that, as a Bay Area native and a Golden State Warriors fan, I’m not on a “hype tip,” a “Laker Lover,” or something of that general sort. I’m just a basketball fan making some observations.
Question 1: Will they catch the Spurs?
It depends, because the Spurs have lost a bit of steam, and lost a bit of Ginobili. This adds to the already long list: Duncan, Parker, and McDyess. The Spurs have LA, Boston, Utah, and Atlanta remaining; but throw in the Suns twice, Sacramento, and Houston, and I think they’ll go about .500 over the rest of the season. It’s hard to predict, because they’ve recently lost to Memphis, where the lead scorer was George Hill, but in any case, the Spurs’ road to the playoffs is fraught at best.
Nevertheless, as the Zen Master himself said, the Spurs only have to win a few games down the stretch to cinch the one-seed. But, the Lakers are playing ace basketball: their last loss was on March 10th, and they’ve since plowed through Orlando, Phoenix, Dallas, Portland, with wins against the Thunder and Spurs coming earlier. Their schedule is pretty tough down the stretch, but if they remain zoned in, they probably can get through Dallas, OKC, Portland, Denver, and San Antonio with more wins than expected.
All told, they probably won’t catch the Spurs for the one-seed in the West, but they nevertheless are playing better than the Spurs are right now.
Question 2: Are the pieces there?
Yes. With the return of Matt Barnes – the same day the Lakers smacked the Spurs, no less – the bench provides tough defense, three-point shooting, and a great swingman to play the 2 or the 3. Couple that with Lamar Odom’s 13, 7, 4 over the last ten games, and I think you have to say that the Lakers are the deepest team in the West.
But I think the big thing here is Andrew Bynum. Averaging 9 boards and almost 2 blocks a game, Bynum provides length, rebounding, size, and a 68% FG that is easy to rely on for a few games out of seven. And I think that’s really what Bynum brings: defense and a scoring option that, over a seven-game series, is crucial to beating other teams. In short, no one wants to see the Lakers’ size and rebounding; Gasol, Bynum, Odom is already a lineup that is more length than any other team in the NBA. Now couple that with Barnes’ 5 boards, Artest’s 3 boards, and you’ve got a team that makes you one-and-done on missed shots. I’m not even going to get started on Kobe Bryant’s look/shot/craziness, because he’s playing great ball, and he’s got a fire that really cannot be matched by anyone other than Derrick Rose. Speaking of which . . .
Question 3: What about the Field?
What about the field? I think that what wins seven-game series are two things, defense and rebounding. LA’s loss to the Celtics in 2008 can be most directly attributed to Boston’s superiority in both categories. Now that Boston traded away their enforcer and defensive stalwart for an upgrade on offense, I don’t think they can really match with the Lakers in these areas. Furthermore, Boston relies on a has-been and a never-was as centers, which really jeopardizes their chances against LA.
So maybe you’re thinking about Oklahoma City as a legitimate threat? I doubt it. They have a great point guard and a great wing man, but that’s about it. Signing Perkins helps because it adds rebounding and size, but where’s the bench? I bet you couldn’t name more than two people on OKC’s bench – there’s no firepower and now depth to that team. In a seven game series, how will they counter Shannon Brown, Matt Barnes, and Lamar Odom coming off the bench? It’s a lot of firepower to deal with.
Well what about the Spurs? I think the problem with the Spurs is that they finally showed their age. The Spurs were performing well beyond expectations, but, as noted earlier, they simply are injured and old. The most recent loss of Ginobili – unclear for how long – and Duncan’s lack of production looks grim. Also, I don’t think that Gary Neal and DeJuan Blair really have what it takes to go toe-to-toe with the Lakers bench. Even still, this is a bad time for injury.
This brings me to the Chicago Bulls. I had the opportunity to watch Rose go for 30+ 15+ against the Bucks – the first Bull since Jordan to do it – and I say to you, if he doesn’t win the MVP, it will be highway robbery. I admit that Boozer is a matchup problem because he’s bigger than Artest and quicker than Gasol or Bynum. I also admit that the Bulls’ greatest strength is LA’s weakness – the point guard position. Finally, I grant you that they actually do have length in Deng and Noah and rebounding in Noah and Boozer. However, I still don’t think they play enough defense and I think they’re too thin outside their starters. I say to you that Taj Gibson and Korver are decent bench players, but I don’t think they do enough to beat the Lakers. I also say that no one with the exception of Noah and sometimes Rose has the ability to play outstanding defense. Barring some sudden change, I don’t think the Bulls have what it takes either.
Too much size, too much rebounding, too much firepower off the bench. The Celtics are dumb; they never should have traded Perkins. The Bulls and OKC are the matchup of the future. But for right now, Give Kobe Bryant number six, and give Phil Jackson number 12. This one is in the bag.
 This is hard for me to believe.
 Any doubts on this matter, and I encourage you to find the triple-overtime win against the Suns last week. Do not fuck with Kobe Bryant.
 See, Shaq and Nenad.