Archive for April, 2010

Parade or No Parade?

April 1, 2010

After the Lakers basically TOOK the championship from Orlando last year the first thing I said was, “…and they are going to take it again next year”. My reason being I looked at the arsenal that the Lakers had: “Twin towers” on the inside by the names of Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. A veteran point guard that controls the offense in Derek Fisher. An effective, quick and timely offensive threat in Trevor Ariza. The most versatile forward in the game Lamar Odom and the best there is– Kobe Bryant. The bench delivering with the likes of Shannon Brown, Jordan Farmar and a healthy Luke Walton. They were easily the strongest offense in the game. With Bynum, thier interior defense was stepped up on the whole and really, who in the NBA could really challenge this jaggernaut of a team next year??

FAST FORWARD…

The team managed to stay in tact after several worrisome back and forth’s with Lamar Odom. Lakers decided to let Trevor Ariza go to Houston and in exchange they got Ron Artest. So, after mulling it over with a fellow Laker fan, it turned out that this was an upgrade. An upgrade to a better defense to add to an already intimidating offense. The Lakers in essence had a star-studded team, an unbeatable team, and a team that undoubtedly could return and win the NBA Finals this year.

NOW TO PLAY THE SEASON…

The Lakers started the season setting out to prove on the court what everybody was saying in the media and at your local sports bar. From the onset they looked to run away with it winning plus 20 games before losing 5. Everything clicked. Even with Ron-Ron still finding his way offensively, he still helped in other areas. No, we didn’t consider him an x-factor, but Shannon Brown easily filled the role that Trevor Ariza left. Defensively they looked much better. Everything looked like we expected it. So what happened?

The Lakers since then sputtered thier way to what is now a worse record than last year, not really able to put any consistent winning streaks together. Having 2 and 3 game losing streaks in between. Losing to A-List teams and struggling to beat D-List teams on the strength of last second Kobe heroics. Their defense is inconsistent, allowing open threes and having poor defensive rotation. With thier offensive numbers down, they are not able to rely soley on the third quarter runs that defined last years lopsided victories. And when the Lakers lose– THEY LOSE!!

Are we complaining? Well, yes and no. This Laker team as opposed to last years Laker team looks vulnerable. After being embarrassed by Denver and Cleveland early in the season, most Laker fans expected them to return with a vengeance that translates to an emphatic victory. Instead, both the Cavs and the Nuggets soundly put the Lakers away— again! What? Not like last year. Where the Lakers could fall behind by any number and come back and win, they tease us with a nice little run at the end then fall short. Not like last year. Last year, let’s be honest, teams were visibly intimidated by the Laker dominance. This year they really don’t look all that invincible. Is it a different team? The record could indicate that. The drop in offensive points per game could indicate that.

After all that they are firmly entrenched in the top of the West and second best record in the league. So why are we complaining? Because we are wondering if this team is able to go through the much improved Western Conference filled with teams that are NOT worried about the Lakers. If they get through it have a very determnined and angry Cleveland Caveliers or Orlando Magic team (if Atlanta or Boston doesn’t surprise us) waiting in the East.

Let’s speculate!

The Lakers have been banged up all season. We haven’t really seen the Lakers at full strength. However they’ve managed to do what is necessary to obtain the top spot in the West. In certain games, they miss several key components to thier bench due to injuries or playing with injuries: Luke Walton, Sasha Vuljacic, Jordan Farmar. They lost offensive punch for a  time when Pau Gasol was injured, they missed Kobe for a few games (still winning but could have used Kobe against Boston). Ron Artest missed a few games. And now they miss interior offense and defense with the injured (again??) Andrew Bynum. Kobe has been playing hurt all season. Chemistry issues? Maybe. Losing any of the starters brings Lamar to the starting position and decreases the effectiveness of the bench. We look to have both Luke Walton and Andrew back in time for the playoffs. Let’s see…

The Lakers are in a different mindset. The year that Boston dismantled the Lakers, Boston was in a “must win” situation and knew that it was now or never. The Lakers were just happy to be in the playoffs. Last year, the Lakers became the now or never team with a chip on thier shoulder and showed it in thier play. Even though they still had too much swagger at times, they still did what they had to do at the right time. This year, they’ve won it and for the younger guys, hunger is in question. Pau wants it bad, Kobe always wants it, Artest never had it, Odom wants it again…but what about everybody else who’s already had it. Obviously the hunger may not be as strong as last year. And the rest of the NBA sees Los Angeles as a big yellow target.

Too good. Too cocky. It’s an 82 game season. We would like to see a team give 100 percent every game, but that doesn’t happen. The Lakers do not have to give thier all in all to win games with the talent they have and unfortunately for the fans, they know it. We see it. Everybody talks about it. If you ask most of the Laker players they will probably say that they try every game. But once they got securely ahead in the West they became very inconsistent…sometimey… And maybe, just maybe they get bored. Bored? Yes bored. We can see it in body language and how they lazily finish out quarters after jumping out to a big lead. Okay this game’s over. Some games were just boring victories. The other team is fighting hard, but the Lakers are just cruising to another win. We’re speculating here. Even towards the end of the season, with the top spot in the West won and the best record out of reach, there is nothing to do but wait for the playoffs. That’s when the REAL playing begins. REALLY. Really?

They just aren’t as good as they were last year. We hate for this to be the reality but it very well could be. And either it’s that the other teams got better or they got worse. We can all agree that they’ve lost offensive punch when Ariza left and maybe that has had the Lakers struggling to find thier rhythm offensively at times. Cleveland added Shaq and we have seen in  games that they give the Lakers a hard time in establishing interior presence and causes turnovers and forces the Lakers into jumpshots. Denver is an offensive and defensive angry beast with Chauncey Billups at the helm. Orlando is peaking. Dallas has made some key trades to become a legitimate contender. Maybe other teams just got much better. Thus somewhat leveling the playing field. This means it won’t be a cakewalk. The Lakers will have to give everything they’ve got to get this second ring.

What do you think? Well I suppose it doesn’t matter what WE think. The playoffs begin in April and the Lakers begin thier title run with questions either for the team, the fans or both. Are the Lakers really worried and frustrated? Or are they just annoyed that they can’t “turn it on” and “turn it off”? Do they really miss Bynum that much as shown in those recent road embarassments? Is this just a, “get the season over with” attitude? These last games, at least statistically, don’t matter. Or maybe they do in terms of finishing strong.

It really doesn’t matter who the Lakers play en route to the finals because they all have potential to upset the Lakers, especially Denver whom the Lakers struggled to put away at home in thier last meeting. But one thing’s for sure, if the Lakers are going to be successful, these things must happen:

Defense. This is why we have Ron-Ron right? The Lakers will have to play better team defense. The easy layups and open threes will have to stop as many of the teams in the West are three point threats. Hopefully Bynum will be back to stop the free-for-all attack at the rim. We expect Ron to be on his game but perimeter “D” breaks down sometimes and then what???

Run Your Offense. This season we’ve seen the Lakers go away from the triangle and settle for threes and jumpshots. This almost NEVER works. You start inside. Get Bynum going, then get Pau going, Once these guys are going, double-teams are demanded and now the rest of the players, especially Kobe can have a field day. You don’t need threes! Take your time! You are not a early in the shot clock offense. You are a slow, get a smart  shot, offense. Use it to your advantage and run when necessary. Slow offense allows you to set up your defense since most of the teams in the West also like to run.

Turnover Issue. The Lakers will simply have to take care of the ball! This has been thier downfall in much of thier losses this season. Nothing more to say about that. This is linked to running your offense.

O Bench, Where Art Thou? Hopefully with Bynum and Walton back, we get our bench back. They are so key! Teams have consistently outscored our bench the latter part of the season. I look for improvement when these guys come back since our bench will now consist of Odom and Walton– controlled and deadly!

It comes down to Kobe. But I  don’t mean scoring. I mean sharing. That game in Atlanta saw Kobe just shooting and not doing much sharing. The Lakers are at thier best when all of the players are involved. Hopefully this was just because of Bynum’s absence combined with frustration. But they have to share the ball. That said, Odom, Artest and Pau will have to be extremely effective offensively so that Kobe doesn’t feel he has to take over.

Follow my lead. You have the best coach in the business and the hunger of Kobe, Artest, Odom and Pau. If the Lakers have that same “win or go home” attitude all across the board, they can be virtually unstoppable. Seriously.

So the final question. Parade or no parade?

Depends on which Laker team shows up. Ultimately. at least we hope, the team that will eliminate the Lakers from the title run will be the Lakers.

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