Lakers Countdown: At #3…

J.M. Poulard —  August 29, 2012

The NBA has seen its fair share of dominant guard and center tandems that managed to reach the mountaintop. Indeed, Oscar Robertson and Lew Alcindor, Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain and perhaps the most famous one, Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar were not only great pairings, but they made their teams great and helped them win championships.

Consequently, the idea of putting a do it all guard next to a dominant center has always made perfect basketball sense given what the players could for each other, although one group would lead many to question if their union would ever truly be harmonious.

Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant will forever be linked to one another given their accomplishments as well as their public disagreements. But make no mistake, they could at times complete each other as teammates like very few have done in the history of basketball.

Clocking in at the third spot in our Los Angeles Lakers title teams countdown…

The 2000-01 Los Angeles Lakers

With Phil Jackson joining the franchise in 1999, many assumed that the Lakers would finally get a chance to fulfill their true potential and win a championship with Shaquille O’Neal leading the way.

And although the team faced some tough playoffs tests during the 2000 playoffs, they not only delivered, but they were good enough for the FB&G panel to vote them in as the eighth best L.A. Lakers title team.

Considering the purple and gold were armed with the most dominant player in the league and a superstar guard in the making, it only made sense to assume that these Lakers would become a dynasty.

However, they would have to do it the hard way.

Shaquille O’Neal showed up for training camp out of shape after celebrating his first title and the rest of the roster seemed to follow his lead as well. Kobe Bryant on the other hand not only showed up in shape, but he had improved his game both offensively and defensively.

With the big man playing himself into shape, Bryant sought to assert himself more on offense, somewhat at the expense of his teammates. O’Neal was not fond of the approach, figuring instead that he should be the first option on the team since the unit had won a title the season prior by using that formula.

Although the logic made sense, O’Neal was in and out of the lineup with minor injuries due to his poor conditioning while Bryant was playing with a chip on his shoulder, eager to prove to his teammates as well as the league that he was perhaps the best all around player in the NBA.

The perception out in the public was that the Diesel thought that the guard was selfish and that Kobe saw his teammate as fat and lazy.

Rumors started to come out that Bryant might get traded and the masses began to question which player was more important at this juncture to the franchise.

For all of the turmoil brewing around the team, they played well in stretches during the regular season and had a pair of five-game winning streaks as well as three different four-game winning streaks.

The team was good but they were not the same crew that won the title the year prior. Indeed, O’Neal’s defensive effort paled in comparison to his MVP season; which was his way of pouting for not getting what he felt was an adequate amount of touches.

The Lakers finished the 2000-01 regular season 14th in defensive efficiency, a far cry from their mark from just a year before, where they had the best one in the league. Luckily, their sixth best offensive efficiency would help carry the team and keep them afloat.

Late in the season, Kobe missed 10 games and the team won seven of those contests with O’Neal once again playing his dominant brand of basketball. Bryant returned to the team with a new resolve, asserting himself only in key stretches when the situation called for it. The guard and center combo helped the Lakers win eight games in a row to close out the season.

The Lakers ended the regular season with a respectable 56-26 record and a plus-3.4 average scoring margin; which really is hardly the stuff of legends. But it looked as though they were peaking at the right time.

Phil Jackson’s squad opened up the playoffs against the Portland Trail Blazers (50-32) and took them out in three games, winning every contest by an average of 14.7 points per game.

Next up, the Lakers faced off against the Sacramento Kings (55-27), who proved not to be much of a match for a Lakers team that was clicking on all cylinders. The purple and gold dispatched the Kings in four games, winning by an average of 9.3 points per game and setting up a terrific Western Conference Finals against the league leading San Antonio Spurs (58-24).

Many expected this series to be one for the ages, but the Lakers had no interest whatsoever in keeping things interesting.

With the Spurs alternating between double-teaming O’Neal and playing him straight up, it created lanes for Bryant to get shots off and create havoc for San Antonio’s defense.

The superstar guard was simply unstoppable as he put up 33.3 points per game, 7 rebounds per game and 7 assists per game on 51.4 percent field goal shooting in the conference finals. His dazzling scoring combined with his playmaking would destroy the Spurs’ defensive game plan and not only allow O’Neal to do damage on the interior, but also set up the likes of Rick Fox, Robert Horry and a scorching hot Derek Fisher to convert open jumpers.

What was supposed to be a series for the ages between arguably the two best teams in the league ended up being a cakewalk for the Lakers, as they thoroughly dispatched San Antonio in four games, winning them by an average of 22.3 points per game.

And just like that, the Lakers made it to the NBA Finals with a perfect 11-0 postseason record, ready to take on the Philadelphia 76ers (56-26).

Game 1 would provide great theatrics as Allen Iverson exploded for 48 points and led Philly to a victory at Staples Center despite Shaq’s almost outrageous line of 44 points and 20 rebounds.

Facing a must win situation at home in Game 2, O’Neal dominated the 76ers frontline and provided one of the most hidden gems as far as finals performances are concerned with 28 points, 20 rebounds, nine assists and eight blocks.

With O’Neal playing like an all-time great, Philadelphia just could not do anything to stop him despite the presence of Dikembe Mutombo — he won the Defensive Player of the Year award that season — as the Diesel would run roughshod through the Sixers as Los Angeles went unbeaten in the remainder of the title round.

Shaquille O’Neal won the Finals MVP award on the strength of his 33 points per game, 15.8 rebounds per game, 4.8 assists per game 3.4 blocks per game on 57.3 percent field goal shooting in the five games in the NBA Finals.

Although the Lakers would “only” sport a plus-6.8 average victory margin in the 2001 Finals against the 76ers, their performance has to be considered as perhaps the best postseason run ever seen in the NBA.

The ’01 Lakers’ defeated four teams that won 50 games or more and also managed to take down three of the four — the purple and gold would be the fourth one obviously — best teams in the league and did so while only losing one game.

Their 15-1 playoff record still stands as the best postseason record in league history and their plus-12.8 playoff average scoring margin is the best of any of the Los Angeles Lakers title teams.

Should we compare this team to any of the Lakers from the 1980s, they might not match up favorably in terms of star power and Hall of Fame caliber talent available on the roster; but if we simply look at what this unit did in their own right on their way to the title, it’s awfully tough to not come away impressed with the way they outclassed the best teams in the NBA on their way to the title.

J.M. Poulard

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27 responses to Lakers Countdown: At #3…

  1. Great write-up J.M.!

    This was one of my all-time favorite playoff runs by our Lakers. Shaq was dominant as usual and Kobe showed everything that he can do with some incredible performances. I think that 3rd is a good spot for this team.

  2. This was one of my favorite playoff runs as well (granted I only started watching the Lakers in the late 90’s). The combo of Shaq and Kobe was just completely unstoppable. All the attention Shaq got, because well he was Shaq, gave arguably the 2nd best player in the league at the time free reign to do what he wanted. Add in fantastic shooting from Fisher (I think he was 15 for 20 in the WCF) and you get the dominant performance they had.

    The stat line from Kobe for the WCF finals has to be one of the best for any play off series. I remember him going up and grabbing O rebounds over the 3 7-footers on more than one occasion during the series.

  3. Derek Fisher: Just not ever a very good shooter, really. But THAT year… my best memory of him is the year that he came back from injury at the end of the season…and could not miss from 3pt land. Especially in the playoffs. It was like something weird happened to him, and he was Ray Allen. Stats say he shot .515 on 3pt’ers during this playoff run. Geez, that’s pretty damn good.

  4. I still think they should have swept the 76ers. It only went to OT because of a bogus foul by Shaq on Iverson, forcing him out of bounds on the baseline with a few seconds left. The ensuing free throws tied the game and forced OT.

    It’s 11 years later, they won the title anyway, and I’m still mad about it. Talk about being spoiled as a fan.

  5. ^Imagine how Kings fans feel about the 2002 WCF… But that’s another topic altogether.

    This 00-01 team is my favorite team ever, and I believe that team at its peak would have handled any team thrown its way, past or present (yep, including the legendary Jordan’s bulls with Pippen/Rodman, and Showtime Lakers). And I know some think that is ludicrous.

  6. Don Ford,

    Fisher was amazing after he returned from injury. I attended quite a few games in the regular season before his injury, and every time Fisher took a shot, there was a collective groan from the crowd, expecting him to miss. I was surprised as anyone when he started to heat up late in the season.

  7. Let’s not forget that the Lakers were at a disadvantage in game 1 of the finals because of their dominance. I think they had something like 10-11 days off between game 4 of the WCF and game 1 of the finals. Had they kept playing (or at least started within a couple days) they might have been more in rhythm and been able to sweep the Sixers.

    Comparing different eras just doesn’t work. That Laker team was the most dominant which is what matters. They swept very good teams that each won 50 games in a tough western conference, probably 3 of the top 6-7 teams in the NBA that year, and all 3 were rivals. The team was a well oiled machine that paced themselves perfectly and peaked at just the right time.

  8. I’d be willing to go to battle any year with that Lakers team.

    Shaq still at his best (once he played himself into shape), and Kobe entering into his above the stratosphere best.

    The Spurs were really good, had Duncan and Robinson, and weren’t even competitive because they had nobody who could handle Diesel OR Kobe.

  9. If LBJ’s team goes 15-1 (or 16-1, 16-2, whatever) we’ll hear so much about it… but since this was with Kobe AND Shaq… I doubt this run gets the kind of credit it should.

  10. The zone rule was implemented after this season to slow down Shaq and the Lakers IMO.

  11. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ACfoBBek80

    One of the many gems from Kobe this playoffs. That lob from Fisher was crazy. Look at Mike Brown at 1:17.

  12. Rick Fox was playing some of the best ball of his career that year. In that interview with Vanessa Williams Jim Gray asked why. After her answer he said “Must be the cake”.lol. Jim Gray’s interviews never lacked character and that was funny.

  13. how about a special award for the team led by Magic when they swept the west, on their way to meet up with the Pistons, only to get swept by detroit because we came into the finals with Scott having pulled a hammy, and Worthy had an injury, and Magic, trying to do too much, wound up pulling his hammy as well… if it weren’t for Riley taking his squad to bootcamp in Hawaii (because we swept the west, we had so much time before the finals…)
    if this team had entered the finals healthy, I bet they would have swept the entire playoffs!
    (sorry, too lazy to research the year this happened)
    this would then have to be #1, don’t ya think??

  14. I’ve asked this before but didn’t see the answer, if provided: are these ranking based on the overall accomplishments (regular season and playoffs), or more of a ranking of what they accomplished in the postseason?

    The 2000-01 team was easily the most dominant playoff run I’ve seen in my 30 years of watching this franchise. I attended Game 2 of the Finals and will always remember seeing that team make its amazing run.

    But if we’re talking about the entire season, I wouldn’t put this squad as high as No. 3.

  15. Chris J,
    Every voter took a variety of factors into consideration. For me, both regular season and playoffs mattered but that wasn’t the only thing I considered.

  16. ’72 and ’87 left.

  17. Zach Lowe is going to be writing for Grantland, according to Bill Simmons’ Twitter.

  18. #13, ’89. heartbreaking having to watch magic who knew full well he won’t be playing, yet suiting up on the sidelines to cheer for a lakers squad with david rivers at pg (dumars just demolished that kid). I remember an interview with mychal thompson before the playoffs started that they wanted to give kareem a 3-peat sendoff. kept thinking about that in the closing minutes of the last game, as the entire forum crowd chanted “kareem! kareem!” up until the buzzer. just wasn’t meant to be that year.

  19. Some of these comments will give Lakers Soldier an aneurysm. Based on postseason performance, I’m with Jesse – I’ll take this Lakers team into battle against any other NBA team, including Jordan’s Bulls.

  20. jm: the numero uno team is what this is all about and the reason for this countdown to begin with. of course we all know the magic/worthy/kareem ’87 team, in my mind slated to be numero dos, much like the kobe/shaq ’01 team, aforementioned slated at numero tres in your countdown, were both riding on previous year’s championship momentum and stigmas that come with repeating. to mention 33 wins in a row during the regular season, unmatched, unsurpassed to this day and to go up against kareem’s previous year’s nba championship milwaukee team in the conference finals and then go on to defeat the new york knickerbockers in the nba finals, what other conclusion can one laker fan, one group of laker writers/bloggers; one group of collective laker following can say other than the “72 team is what laker lore is all about.

    Or, i could be wrong.

    enjoying your countdown like the rest of us.

    Go Lakers !

  21. Darius,
    I suggest you ask Henry Abbott to rank the Lakers title teams, post his response, and then hook up a generator to the web site. You’ll solve the energy crisis.

  22. I have watched that team… 2000-01 … i’ve watch that win by the 76’ers in game one. Iverson walking over tyron lue… it was embarrassing .. that game 1, a lot of my friends who watch with me that day was rooting against my Lakers… But when we swept the next 4 games, it was like heaven on earth. I could feel as if I was walking on air after the game 5 victory…

    totally amazing playoff run…

  23. That’s an awesome video from Kevin

    That lob from Fish to Kobe is ridiculous. I didn’t even remember that Fish had 28 points in that closeout game against San Antonio. HE LED THE TEAM IN SCORING THAT GAME. Offensive rating: 204!!!

  24. Thanks for the response, Darius.

  25. @#11 Kevin – thanks for the link – awesome video – just brought back the good memories of when Shaq and Kobe were unstoppable.

    As I watch the clip what also came out to me was that Fisher had 28pts that game on I think 6/6 from 3 – I know that we brought this up in the past but I would love to see fisher’s number retired or for him to come back to the Lakers in some form of coach/consultant role – such a warrior.

    The clip also brought another thought to my mind – now that we have Dwight we have found our next Shaq but who will be out next Kobe?

    I’m 27 and have been following the Lakers since 96 but in looking back at the teams history what is apparent is that we always look to have a highly skilled perimeter player joined with a dominant big – just hoping we can find our next gem during dwights tenure

  26. That was a great playoff run. It was especially sweet to return the favor of sweeping the Spurs. San Antone had swept the Lakers in ’99, which prompted Laker mgmt. to hire Phil Jackson. Kobe was so good vs. San Antonio that Shaq felt obliged to acknowledge that the Bean was the best player in the Association. Derek and Rick Fox played some of the best ball of their careers during that run. And, to me, Horace Grant was irreplaceable on that team. He brought veteran leadership and championship experience to the mix. His interior defense and willingness to do the dirty work were evidence of a man playing his role to perfection. Definitely one of my favorite teams.

  27. Fisher was so wide open on some of those shots. An amazing team.