Monday, May 08, 2006


And so the Lakers' season ends not with the often imitated but never duplicated Kobe hoisting a trophy following a victorious Finals, but with a 1st round collapse that saw the Lakers surrender a 3-1 series lead, and in turn, give up during Game 6's Overtime period.
I would venture to say that the Suns won the pivotal Game 7 contest before it even started! Doubting their ability to stay out of foul trouble and lacking Phoenix's depth and ability to score from the perimeter, Los Angeles put forth a half-hearted 1st Quarter effort... a quarter in which the Suns couldn't miss and the Lakers couldn't hit. After Phoenix built a 17 point lead, L.A came roaring back in the 2nd Quarter and by Half-Time cut Phoenix's lead to... umm, 15. And so it went. Kwame Brown (2-10, 8 points) couldn't put the ball in the basket even when he was positioned beneath the rim, Lamar Odom also struggled to score (5-14, 12 points), and Kobe Bryant's team-high 24 points on 50% shooting just wasn't enough to carry the club to victory. Worse still, Bryant was pine-lined for much of the 2nd half. Whether he took himself out of the game or coach Phil Jackson sat him down is unclear to me at this point, but irregardless of the score... would Michael Jordan ever be seen sitting out the period? Would Joe Montana remove his helmet and grab a frosty cup of Gatorade? Would Derek Jeter tell Joe Torre that he'd had enough... or more unbelievable still, would Torre tell Jeter to take the rest of the afternoon off? Uh-uh, never happen.

So... we have an entire summer to ponder the Lakers and their descent into mediocrity. It's the 2nd round for gutty PG Steve Nash and his Suns!

This should be a brilliant series... but Mike D'Antoni must be VERY concerned that the Lakers so easily exposed Phoenix's achilles heel. A weakness, mind you, that cost Phoenix the Finals last year as well; their inability to defend larger, more powerful hoopsters.
During the opening round, Kobe was able to score almost at will. But, for the most part, the Suns were able to surmount Kobe because such efforts indicate that one player is carrying the bulk of the scoring load.
When they were playing crisp Basketball, and by that I mean FOUL-FREE Basketball, Fs Lamar Odom and Kwame Brown were able to impose their will with near impunity. Tim Thomas was a big key... maybe the crucial key, to the Suns getting to the 2nd round. But he's just 1 man, and SF Shawn Marion, an athlete capable of dominating a game with fearsome defense and a reliable shot, is pulling his annual post-season disappearing act. Coupled with the foul trouble that Odom and Brown consistently found themselves in, Kwame missed a ton of (what should've been) easy, in the paint/under the hoop shots. The Suns were unable to keep him out of the lane and had he sunk those crucial buckets... Phoenix might be well be the team cleaning out its lockers today.
If Thomas's rebounding, clutch 3 point shooting, and ability to match LA's physicality was critical to Phonex's round 1 victory, then PG Leandro Barbosa's fearless style, ability to slash to the hoop, and knack for forcing the crucial turnover was almost as pivotal.
While the Lakers were unable to find an answer for Barbosa... the Clippers will be able to trot-out a 6-7 Point' in Shaun Livingston.... and Livvy' is scary!
The bottom line to this series, as I see it, will be Phoneix's ability to consistently hit the perimeter shot and their success... or failure, to force Los Angeles to play at their pace.
However, if C Chris Kaman and PF Elton Brand (a double-double machine since he entered the league in '99) are able to pound the ball inside with regularity, mirroring what the Lakers (and specifically Odom) did at the start of the last series then the Suns could be packing-up inside of 5 games.

One thing that sets the Clippers apart from their L.A counterparts is depth... Kobe and Lamar were the predominant scorers. In conjunction to their size advantage, the Clippers field solid scoring options throughout their lineup. Brand, Maggette, Kaman, Cassell, Ross, and young Shaun Livingston, whose tremendous length, athleticism, and court vision make him a breakout candidate, all pose match-up nightmares for Phoenix.

Without a doubt this series promises to be just as exciting, if not more so, than the previous. And, if the Suns are able to get past the Clipps' it will be because Marion stepped up his game, Nash again showed everyone why he's gotta' make space for another MVP trophy, Tim Thomas put forth a super-human effort, and Leandro Barbosa took another step towards stardom.

Man... the Nets get no National love, and frankly, that's both disappointing and surprising. Could it be that because Jersey plays on a property that is perceived to be in the boondocks and consists of converted swamp and marshland... they are an NBA stepchild? Certainly the Meadowlands... and it ain't no meadow, take my work for it as I've been there many times, is no less accessible than the Toronto Raptors home turf, is it? And, aside from C Chris Bosh and possibly young F Charlie Villanueva, name a Raptor that stirs your interest!
Instead, how 'bout a true 7-foot Center who overcame a childhood the likes of which a Stephon Me-Bury, Darius Miles, or Latrell Sprewell could scarely conceive in Nenad Krstic? If you don't go in for well-grounded, fundamentally sound Centers who hail from war-torn Eastern European countries... how about a SG who over came injury and then proceeded to surmount the disinterest of a formerly fanatical NBA fan base in Vince Carter? No longer hyped as "the 2nd coming of Michael Jordan," (LeBron James is now widely assumed to be he) Carter managed to round-out his game by taking an interest in defense, averaged 24+/6/4+ with a steal per game over the regular season, and then took it to another level during the 1st round match-up against the arch-rival Pacers. Hanging a line of 29/8+/5+ with almost 3 steals per game, Carter and SF Richard Jefferson are a formidable 2nd season tandem.
And lastly, the true leader of the Nets; PG Jason Kidd. Marbury will give you points and Nash will give you dimes' (taking absolutely nothing away from the current MVP).... but JKidd will give you everything he has and whatever it takes to win. His shot, absent during the first round, was off-set by his ability to pierce the lane and kick the ball out to an open "RJ" and Carter. In addition, Kidd always seemed to come down with the big board and refused to allow ANY Pacer a free pass down court.
These, my fantasy friends, are the hallmarks of a great NBA team.

We shall see!


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