The Final Four

 —  May 21, 2005

Since about mid-season I think we all knew, and in some way hoped, it would come down to this. There were four teams that were serious contenders for the NBA crown and for a change two were in the West and two were in the East. Now we see who is the best. Here are a few thoughts on the upcoming series (if you just want Laker info scroll down to the second part of this post).

Phoenix and San Antonio. What I find interesting about this match up is these two powerhouses had weaknesses exposed in the last round. San Antonio’s vaunted defense struggled when the Sonics played pick-and-roll well away from the basket, and they will get a steady diet of that from the Suns. Phoenix’s lack of depth was exposed (though not thoroughly exploited by Dallas) as was the fact you can shut down Stoudemire for a while and the Suns play inconsistent interior defense. Tony Parker’s offensive numbers are pretty average over the course of the entire playoffs (a PER of just 14.63), he needs to step up and make Nash work at both ends. Coaching adjustments will be key in this series, but I think Popovich has more arrows in his quiver in terms of depth. Give me the Spurs in seven.

Detroit and Miami. Detroit’s lack of depth and inconsistent scoring got them in trouble with Indiana, and Miami is a much better team. The Heat have held opponents to 43.5% (eFG%) in the playoffs, the best of any team in the post season, so they may be able to hold the Pistons way down. In fact, the Heat have looked like a juggernaut, but they have yet to play a team that matches up well with them — and Detroit does. Shaq and Zo have turned the ball over a fair amount in the playoffs (both averaging four turnovers per 40 minutes), and Detroit can put a lot more pressure on them. Wade struggled in the regular season against the Pistons, so Shaq will have to step up and I’m not sure he’s physically capable of that. The Pistons have been monsters on the offensive glass in the playoffs (grabbing 30.5% of their missed shots) so Miami needs to focus there. Shaq is the key to the series, and I think he’s got three good games in him at best, so give me the Pistons in seven.

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Not much new on the Laker front, save for Tuesday night’s Draft Lottery. The Lakers have a 1.4% chance of landing the top spot, a 4.7% chance of landing in the top three. So, expect us to be drafting 10th.

Eric Pincus has a new piece up at Hoopsworld with a few tidbits but nothing big to report. For a good breakdown of some of the guards in the upcoming draft, check out Knickerblogger’s breakdown.

By the way, it’s early but if the Lakers do end up with the 10 pick, I’d lean toward Raymond Felton the point guard or Fran Vasquez the power forward. But individual workouts are just starting, so that could change.