Lakers Countdown: At #8…

J.M. Poulard —  August 3, 2012

In case you missed it, the FB&G team voted to rank the 11 Lakers title teams since moving to Los Angeles from worst to first. So far, the countdown has seen us take a look at the 2002 Lakers (11th), the 2009 Lakers (10th) and the 2010 Lakers (ninth). Clocking in at the eighth spot…

The 1999-00 Lakers

Shaquille O’Neal left the Orlando Magic in the summer of 1996 to join a Los Angeles Lakers team that he felt appreciated him more considering his dominance on the basketball court as well as his charismatic personality off it. Granted, it helped that the Lakers were able to offer the Diesel more money than any other team in the league but the big man had his heart set on joining the team after talking it out with then general manager Jerry West.

In that same offseason, the franchise acquired Kobe Bryant via the draft and hoped to pair him up with O’Neal to form a great dynamic duo.

The first few seasons for both players were met with mixed results. Shaq performed up to expectations while Bryant struggled at times to understand his role and fit in within the team structure. But one thing eluded both: team success.

Despite a roster with overwhelming talent, the Lakers always seemed to underachieve in the postseason. And ultimately, the failures were always blamed on two people: the head coach — take your pick between Del Harris and Kurt Rambis — and Shaquille O’Neal.

O’Neal as well as some of his teammates found it extremely difficult to coexist with a young Bryant that seemed to think he knew it all, but with the owner and general manager forcing the head coach to play the young star in the making without him actually earning his playing time, it irked the team’s veterans. The kid was talented, but he was also a lone wolf.

Consequently, some of the Lakers resented Bryant because they felt that he was out for himself as opposed to the team. The only way this could be fixed would be if someone were able to help steer Kobe towards the team and also steer the team towards the future superstar.

And thus, the Lakers hired Phil Jackson with the hope that he would solve it all and get the team to play up to its championship potential.

And boy did he.

The new head coach put in the Triangle Offense and encouraged players to feed their dominant big man but also to find their own rhythm and assert themselves offensively when the situation presented itself for them to do so.

Bryant, to some degree, followed the instructions of his head coach despite the fact that his teammates often failed to recognize this. Nonetheless, the team’s play finally matched its hype and potential.

Jackson was able to get Shaquille O’Neal to play the best basketball of his career and submit his greatest statistical season ever. The Diesel appeared in 79 games and posted figures of 29.7 points per game, 13.6 rebounds per game, 3.8 assists per game and 3 blocks per game on 57.4 percent field goal shooting.

As a result of the big man’s dominance, combined with the coming together of the rest of the roster, the Los Angeles Lakers dominated the regular season. They finished the season with an impressive 67-15 record, sported the fifth best offensive efficiency figure in the league as well as the best defensive efficiency mark in the league and ended the regular season with a plus-8.5 average scoring margin.

Impressive statistics all around and yet, it gets better.

During the 1999-00 season, the Los Angeles Clippers won 15 games, the Chicago Bulls won 17 games and the Golden State Warriors were victorious in 19 contests. During that very same regular season, the Lakers managed three separate double-digit win streaks with two of them rivaling the record of the teams mentioned before.

Indeed, the purple and gold managed a 16-game winning streak from mid-December to mid-January, then went on an impressive run, winning 19 straight games from early February to mid-March. Once their winning streak ended in March with a loss on the road to Washington, Phil Jackson’s team picked things right back up and won another 11 straight.

In terms of regular season output, one could make the argument that the 2000 Lakers could have favorably compared to the 1997 Bulls team (69-13) as well as the 1967 Philadelphia 76ers (68-13).

Mind you, this version of the Lakers only finished eighth in our voting of Lakers title teams since the relocation to Los Angeles.

This was by far Phil Jackson’s best Lakers regular season team, but of all his title teams, it may just be its worst playoff performing unit — Chicago Bulls included– to have won a championship.

The 2000 Lakers struggled in the first round against a young Sacramento Kings team and needed the full five games — the first round at the time was a best of five games series — to advance to the second round where they played a little better and dispatched the Phoenix Suns in five games, which set up one of the greatest Western Conference Finals in NBA history.

The Lakers seemed poised to easily dispatch an extremely talented Portland Trail Blazers team after taking a 3-1 series but then watched a squad led by Scottie Pippen’s championship experience come back and force a Game 7 at Staples Center and take a 13-point lead going into the fourth quarter of the game.

With contributions from their role players, the Lakers bounced back to take the lead and even gave fans the signature moment of the Shaq and Kobe era when Bryant crossed over Pippen late in the game and floated a wonderful alley-oop pass to Shaquille O’Neal that brought the house down and propelled the team to the NBA Finals.

A great comeback performance by the eventual champs, but they managed to actually get outscored in the seven-game series by the Blazers.

The Lakers would advance to the title round and dispatch the Indiana Pacers in six games, with Kobe Bryant showing a great flair for the dramatic as he delivered a fantastic performance in Game 4 with Shaquille O’Neal fouling out in overtime. The young guard went on to score the final eight points on a barrage of long 2-point jumpers and a put back basket that helped the Lakers seize a 3-1 stranglehold on the series, which resulted in them eventually winning the title in Game 6 back in Los Angeles.

The 2000 Lakers finished their playoff run with a 15-8 playoff record; with their eight defeats being the second most postseason losses by a Los Angeles Lakers title team. In addition, Shaq and Kobe’s first championship team sported a plus-2.3 average scoring margin, which happens to be the worst out of any of the Lakers teams that won titles after moving to Los Angeles.

Phil Jackson’s first season with the franchise was a success given the terrific regular season as well as the championship parade that capped off the team’s fantastic season. In addition, Shaq and Kobe provided many memorable moments during the spring of 2000 and those will probably be remembered for a fairly long time given their impact as well as their importance.

With that said though, the team’s playoff struggles invariably led to them taking a fairly substantial hit in their ranking when compared to other title teams.

But still…

Kobe to Shaq…

What a moment.

J.M. Poulard

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