It Could Be an Interesting Road For The Lakers

Phillip Barnett —  April 15, 2010

Los Angeles Lakers at Oklahoma City Thunder

With the finale of the very last game of the season, Phoenix/Utah, the Western Conference playoff bracket was finally set. With the Suns win over Utah, it moves them into the number 3 slot, creating an interesting road for the Lakers to the Finals – something that I was ultimately hoping for.

In the Lakers previous two post-seasons, they had to go through both the Utah Jazz and Denver Nuggets to get to the Finals. Even though the Lakers were 8-3 against the Jazz and 8-2 against the Nuggets in the series they played in the previous two seasons, those were the series before the Finals that put their respective stamps on the Lakers post season. This season, however, the Nuggets and Jazz will play for the right to try and knock off the Lakers in the second round.

If the Lakers are so lucky to get back to the Western Conference Finals, it appears that they’ll either end up playing the Dallas Mavericks or the Phoenix Suns. I’m not really into predicting the future, but conventional wisdom would hold that the Suns have a fairly decent chance of moving past a Portland Trailblazers team without Brandon Roy. Phoenix has been playing better than just about anyone in the NBA in these last few weeks and, without Portland’s all-star, Phoenix should roll. The other series places the new-look Mavericks against a Spurs team who are seemingly making one-last-hurrah. Last night, their young talented point guard, George Hill, left the game early with an ankle injury (the same ankle that he missed games with earlier this month). With Tony Parker’s hand still not completely used to dribbling and shooting the basketball, not having Hill will create problems for a Spurs team that struggled to beat the Mavericks all season. Although seemingly far fetched, nothing is guaranteed and either of the two best teams after the Lakers can go down.

But assuming they don’t, it creates an interesting dynamic for this postseason. The Lakers will have to go through a familiar foe to play what have been the two best Western Conference teams since the All-Star break. Yesterday, I got into a debate with reader J.D. Hastings via Twitter (shameless plug, but you can follow me here) about the merits of playing this Suns teams in the playoffs. While I recognize that the Lakers were 3-1 against the Suns this season, I’ve always been a firm believer of having momentum going into the postseason. Now, I’m not suggesting that either the Mavericks or the Suns will beat the Lakers because they’ve been playing better down the stretch, but I do believe that it’s foolish to take either of these teams lightly – especially the Suns. While it’s much harder to loathe this team without D’Antoni and Raja Bell on their half of the sideline, it’s just as easy to ponder how the Lakers are going to stop the Nash/Stoudemire S&R. But this is all assuming that the Lakers move past the Thunder in the first round.

Last night, Kevin Durant sealed up the scoring title, making him, at age 21, the youngest scoring champion ever. As Phil Jackson would tell it, much of that has to do with how many times Durant gets to the line. Now, I’m not really into this Jackson/Durant media scuffle, but I would like to point out that Durant is one of the best young men in the NBA. He carries himself like a champion and has been the ultimate teammate in his short tenure in the league. We’re going to have a more in-depth look at this Lakers-Thunder series before they meet for the first time on Monday. With three full days of rest, I’m hoping we’ll have some positive reports about Andrew Bynum getting some full practices in with the team since he strained his Achilles, and some good news about Sasha Vujacic and Jordan Farmar. The Lakers are going to need to be full strength no matter who they’re playing this postseason.

-Phillip

Phillip Barnett

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20 responses to It Could Be an Interesting Road For The Lakers

  1. Realistically, setting aside all the “no desire!” and “no hunger!” bluster (which, admittedly, I’ve been guilty of):

    1) Kobe Bryant is going to start the playoffs with a broken index finger on his shooting hand and a swollen knee (and those are the ailments we know of)

    2) Andrew Bynum will be returning (hopefully) after 3 weeks off with a tender achilles.

    3) Ron Artest will be playing with a sprained thumb and now a tweaked ankle.

    4) Lamar Odom will be playing with a sprained shoulder and a bad thumb.

    5) Shannon Brown will be playing with a sprained thumb on his shooting hand.

    6) Jordan Farmar will be playing with a tweaked hamstring.

    7) Luke Walton will be playing with a bad back (and knowing Luke, he’ll reinjure it in the first round and be done for the playoffs).

    8 ) Derek Fisher will be playing with a strained right hip and a giant salad fork sticking out of his back (to steal the old Bill Simmons joke).

    The only rotation player who doesn’t have an injury is Pau Gasol.

    This team is too injured and too tired to win another championship.

    You have to remember, in terms of physical, emotional, and psychological wear and tear this team will be trying to reach the Finals FOR THE THIRD TIME IN THREE YEARS, so what they’re attempting is more similar to a three-peat than winning a back-to-back championship.

    I just don’t think the team has it in them.

    I understand why Mitch decided to only swap Ariza for Artest, but this team needed an injection of new blood BADLY this summer (and I’m not just saying this in hindsight – I was saying it at the time, too). Not just Artest.

    If Mitch had simply found a way to get another guard in exchange for Farmar (or traded Farmar for a 2nd rounder and then signed another guard), the team would have been better set up to win another title.

    As it stands, I just don’t think they have it in them.

  2. 1. I agree.

    We are so banged up, unless Kobe goes insane and bench steps up it will be unlikely we repeat.

    I predict Lakers lose in 2nd round.

  3. If LA can quickly dispatch OKC, that extra time in between series could be a real boon.

    I figure HCA is going to be a huge factor in the post-season success of both Utah and Denver, so it would be optimal if that series went 7 games. The problem is that Denver has played Utah quite well this year, and Boozer and Kirilenko may not be 100%.

    Best case scenario: Lakers finish OKC on 4/24; and Utah finishes Denver on 5/2. That should give the banged-up Lakers at least 9 days to recuperate.

    It seems Phoenix should make quick work of the the Blazers, but I’m not going to count them out. I think Andre Miller is the kind of pg who’ll overpower Nash on the perimeter and cause havoc in the paint.

  4. It is now winning time.

    Go hard, or go home, no excuses.

    I like our chances very much. The Lakers are banged up, but again, at this level of play the athletes are used to playing while injured.

    Professionals play well, even when they are hurt.

    We have experience, we have talent, we have an excellent coaching staff, and we have the best top 5 players, without question. (Kobe, Gasol, Bynum, Odom, Artest. Artest is the fifth best player on our team. No other team is anywhere close to that good.)

    I think we will do well in the first round, get healthy in time for the second round, and burl our way past the Western Conference Finals.

    Go Lakers!

  5. #4
    I agree. The Lakers get healthy over the next month and roll to Finals. PHX would be a dream match up in my opinion.

  6. Portland wants Suns. Spurs want Suns. May be Dallas also wants Suns. Lakers want Suns. And those who played them recently – Denver and Utah dont want to see Suns. May be this Suns are different. May be they are the biggest obstacle!

  7. other injuries – Boozer, AK47, Lopez, Roy, Hill, Parker, KMart

    Sure, none to their best player, but if Kobe can facilitate Pau can take over the best player role.

    But I’m with you guys if I had to fill out a bracket today I wouldn’t pencil us down as champions

    I don’t think any team but the Lakers and Spurs should be wanting Suns, they are the only teams that can consistently take advantage of size inside.

  8. Suns are a lot more defensive minded than they were before. Also, with Barbosa back, they are deeper and more athletic than they have been. Still, we match up very well against them if Andrew is healthy and playing. Amare has been playing like man possessed and Nash is still Nash. Our trio of skilled bigs in Pau, Bynum, and Odom will overwhelm them on both offense and defense. If we see OKC-UTA-PHO, I like our chances to get to the Finals. If we see OKC-DEN-DAL, it would be a tougher road. Can Kobe play effectively with the injuries? He looks OLD near the end of the season. Hopefully, he’ll perk up a bit during the playoff!

    Go Lakers!

  9. I agree that the dream matchups for us would be Utah and then Phoenix, with Denver and Dallas being a much, much tougher road for us to hoe.

    I am as worried going into the postseason as I have been since before we got Pau. This team is really banged up, and for the first time we are seeing a Kobe that is noticeably suffering from his various maladies. We need to him be the Kobe of yore if we are going to win it all this year, and right now I don’t see it happening. Just getting out of the West is going to be hard enough.

  10. All this talk about Utah and Phoenix, we need to get past the OKC first. Yah they are young. Yah they are inexperienced. But they are damn good. 50 Win team. A wing Superstar. an above average point guard. And a great wing defender, the kind that has been giving kobe fits all year, and even more so because of his ailments.

    We need to get past OKC first, and then we’ll worry about the next one. I know we all like to look forward and see the path, but we can’t skip anything. This team will be ready to play.

    Thankfully, we have Pau Gasol and LO. WE’ll kill them in the post. That’s the only thing to do. Even Kobe in the post if Bynum isn’t healthy will be great.
    Let’s do this Lakers!

  11. i think we’ll get to the finals .. but it’ll be a real battle to get there .. i think once we get bynum back kobe and pau wont have to do as much and lamar will be back to coming off the bench

  12. I think DAL playing SA in RD1 and both being in the other bracket is a huge break for the Lakers.

    As to the injuries, the real issues are Bryant and Bynum. How much they can give will determine whether the Lakers get to the WCF. IMO, this is the order of teams from most likely to least likely to beat the Lakers in a series in the West:

    1. Dallas
    2. San Antonio
    3. Denver
    4. Utah/Phoenix
    5. Portland*/Oklahoma City
    *assuming Roy is not himself or just gets the surgery.

    If Bynum and Bryant can play at near 100%, and if they avoid Dallas, I think they will slog back to the Finals–maybe in 20 total games. And they certainly can beat Dallas.

    If they are in the finals, however, I think we will see the Cleveland roll over them in 5 or 6 –too much treadware, not enough outside shooting, not enough bench, too much LeBron, too much CLE depth.

    If they play Orlando in the finals, I think Orlando takes G7 at home to win the trophy.

    If Bynum and/or Bryant are not near 100%, I think they will squeak by OKC and then lose in R2, as Hollinger predicts.

  13. Burgandy,
    There is a difference between being hurt and being injured. Most NBA players are hurting right now… but the one problem is it looks like Kobe’s knee is “injured.” However… he will get that injected for the next couple months of playoff basketball and look a lot better than he has his last 3 games.

  14. Its playoff time. No assumptions should be made. No team should be taken lightly. One game at a time guys. We can’t control the elements of injury – for all we know Lebron could get hurt in the first round and be out for the playoffs (same for Kobe). So we have to go one game at a time, attack in the post, and hit some outside shots. Thats all we can do, and if we do it effectively, we will be hard to stop.

    Game 1, Sunday. Lets go.

  15. keep in mind the WC playoffs is a dogfight all the way across the board. If the Lakers get by OKC, they’ll play either a Jazz or Nugget squad that probably will have just went 6 or 7 games and have their share of injuries.

    Right now the Lakers need to focus on slowing down Westbrook and Durant and keeping this series short, not letting the young guys from OKC get confident.

  16. RE: 6 – Hollinger Predictions

    Good Lord, Hollinger doesn’t know anything about basketball. He sits in his stats all day and then spits out answers that never pass the “eye test.”

    What do you actually see with your eyes?

    Sometimes stats and eyes match up.

    For example, stats say Derek Fisher is the worst starting point guard in the NBA, and lo and behold, so do your eyes!

    Back to my point – the playoffs are all about matchups. In some cases, teams are evenly matched, but in most cases there is a matchup advantage to exploit and the winning team is usually on the positive side of that matchup advantage.

    In most series, the Lakers walk in with a matchup advantage simply, because they have Gasol, Bynum, and Odom in the front court. Ask any scout in the NBA: that’s why the Lakers are the most feared (not necessarily Kobe). Over a seven game series, you are forced to matchup with that insane front court – and bigs are a lot harder to guard that wings and guards.

    In order to matchup with the Lakers you either have to have excellent defensive bigs, or potent offensive bigs (or maybe both).

    That’s why the Celtics beat LA in 2008 – the Gasol/Odom duo tore through the West, but once they went up against the excellent defensive duo of KG/Perkins, they were in trouble.

    Let’s look at the possibilities LA faces:

    OKC
    Let’s face it, OKC has maybe the worst front court of any playoff team in the West. Seriously. Jeff Green is a small forward masquerading as a power forward. All the Lakers have to do to win this series is pound it inside for 4 games and let OKC take all the outside jumpers it wants. Seriously. Strategically, there is no way Kobe should be taking 25 shots a game against OKC. Feed Gasol and Bynum early and often and OKC goes down with a whimper.

    2nd Round:

    This is were Hollinger is nuts: there is a reason why the Lakers have beaten the Jazz just about every time they’ve faced them over the past two years (even when LA was slumping, they beat the Jazz). Gasol is kryptonite to Boozer with his long arms on both offense and defense. Okur is a soft big in cememt shoes who can’t stay with Bynum from a strength standpoint and can’t stay with Odom from a speed standpoint.

    To make matters worse, Utah doesn’t have anyone who can really guard Kobe. Utah is a very good team, but LA exploits all of their weaknesses. I’m not saying LA sweeps Utah (Utah is still a very good team), but they were probably win in 6.

    Denver, on the other hand…that’s a toss-up. Denver can throw K-Mart, Nene, and Birdman at the Laker’s front court – all there are EXCELLENT defensive bigs. That’s why the Lakers have so much trouble with Denver. Add to that a wing defender (Afflalo) who can slow down Kobe? That’s a hard, hard matchup.

    Notice with OKC, Utah, & Denver I don’t mention the point guard matchup…in most cases, a point guard isn’t going to win a series…it’s easier to device a strategy for controlling a point guard. A point guard like Billups or D-Will can win A GAME if they get hot from three (as Billups did during the regular season), but it’s not going to happen over a series (usually).

    If the Lakers get Utah in the second round, they make the WCF.

    If they face Denver (and Denver has K-Mart available)….it’s a toss up.

    As for the WCF:

    Portland won’t make it – too many injuries.

    The Spurs could make it, and they’re an interesting team because they’re the only team that is a bad matchup for the Lakers…but the Lakers are also a bad matchup for them. The Spurs only have Duncan to throw at Gasol, Bynum, and Odom, but the Spurs also have a group of guards and wings that are a terrible matchup for LA. So ultimately, it’s a close series, that honestly, comes down to three point shooting. If the Spurs can knock down threes with regularity…they win the series. If they can’t, they don’t.

    Dallas has recently become a better matchup for LA since they acquired Haywood, so now they have Haywood and Dampier to throw at the Laker’s front court…but Haywood is the only quality defender. The problem with Dallas is:

    1) They still don’t have a defender that can guard Kobe.

    2) They can’t fully exploit the Lakers biggest weakness (PG), because JKidd isn’t a scorer.

    I still think the Lakers have the upper hand in that series, but depending on the how the Laker’s bigs do, Dallas could win.

    As for Phoenix, the Lakers are another bad matchup for them. You beat Phoenix by:

    A) Chasing them off the three point line.

    B) Forcing them to defend inside.

    The Lakers KILL Phoenix with “B”…and they’ve shown they’re capable of A.

    Phoenix doesn’t have anyone who can guard Kobe, Gasol, Odom, OR Bynum (unless Robin Lopez comes back).

    So to Summarize the West:

    OKC: LA definitely beats them.

    UTAH: LA definitely beats them.

    DENVER: Toss-Up if K-Mart plays, probably beats them if he doesn’t.

    SPURS: LA probably beats them unless Ginobili catches fire.

    DALLAS: LA probably beats them unless Gasol has a bad series.

    PHOENIX: LA definitely beats them.

    So the ideal (and actually totally realistic) scenario is this for the West:

    1st Round: OKC
    2nd Round: Utah
    3rd Round: Phoenix

    I think the Lakers make the finals in that scenario.

    They probably do if they face Dallas in the third round…or the Spurs.

    Denver is the wild card.

    AS FOR THE FINALS…that’s where the Lakers are in Big, BIG trouble.

    The Lakers are still a bad matchup for Orlando (bc they have no one to guard Kobe and Rashard Lewis has to guard Gasol or Odom), but Orlando will be playing with a healthy Jameer Nelson (the Alston for Nelson swap in the Finals was a huge advantage for LA) and will be playing with vengeance on their minds. If the Lakers face Orlando, there’s a good chance they lose…but they would have a shot.

    If the Lakers face Cleveland, forget about.

    They have three long bigs (Shaq, Varajao, and Z) to throw at our front court, they have a scoring point guard to abuse Fish, and they have LeBron. The only advantages the Lakers have are Kobe and Odom. For the Lakers to win that series both Kobe (he of the broken finger and bum knee) and Odom (he of the injured shooting shoulder) have to play OUT OF THEIR MINDS.

    I just don’t see it happening.

    My honest prediction is the Lakers make the Finals and lose to Cleveland.

    But I hope I’m wrong.

  17. Albert (CA San Jose) April 15, 2010 at 3:53 pm

    I’m a huge Laker fan and the whole season it’s been were taking it easy in the reg. season. Let’s see what were made of on Sunday. Let’s Go Lakers Let’s Go Lakers

  18. Great analysis #18. You summed up my feelings, and did it better than I could have.

    I was really disappointed PHX beat UTAH in the season finale. I was really hoping for a UTAH / PHX 4-5 series for the Lakers in round 2.

    DEN scares me in Round 2. Billups can catch fire and Afflalo is turning into a budding / fringe star. I don’t like that series one bit. I’ll be rooting for UTAH but I just don’t see them winning in DEN.

    I’m actually more worried about DEN than PHX, SAN or DAL. I think we can really matchup well against the latter 3 inside, and each team cannot take advantage of the Lakers kryptonite — an explosive, scoring PG.

    As for the Finals, people need to stop drinking the CLE kool-aid. This is the same team (but slower with Shaq) that got bulldozed by ORL last year. I think BOS actually gives CLE a run for the money in Round 2.

    I think we’re heading for a rematch from last year’s Finals, and the Lakers win again. I’m not sold on Dwight Howard’s offense game, and you NEED inside scoring to win a title…Ultimately the Lakers bench is in for a major shake-up this offseason. Sorry, but Jordan Farmar is not the answer. And neither is that sloppy machine. Time to get some perimeter players who can stretch the floor (John Paxon), who can push the tempo (Barbosa) and who can defend.

  19. agreed with burgundy about the matchups discussion. i still say because i want to believe that the chip goes through LA. what concerns me is the eastern champ. either cle, orl or heck a resurrected bos have the fits and the bench to run us down any time we let our guard down. and may i add burgundy, kobe has to play his A game all the way in the west playoffs. he needs to do so to shut down OKC’s hopes early. he needs to do so to keep utah down as well and to keep up with den on the other hand. he as to do so to outscore pho or again to keep in pace with dal. in the finals, he has to simply be amazing. and hey, new script coming, he just maybe once more. our bigs have to be the same as well and be as dazzling in the finals.

    there lies the key, consistency. that’s what makes champs in the playoffs simply because you can not slack off a la regular season and expect to find your swagger the next game. the lakers CAN NOT have the same playoff-type intensity in some of those HOU and DEN games last year. no one is giving them any quarter this year and a lot of those teams are thinking payback.

    with a banged up and quite hard to describe team, that is easier said than done.

    GO LAKERS!