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Basketball is one sport where having that one singular difference maker can matter most. With only 10 players on the floor at one time and each team’s 5 man unit responsible for offense and defense simultaneously, having the guy who is the best player matters a great deal. This is one reason why trades are often viewed through the prism of the team who won the trade is often the one who got the best player. The value of that guy is simply too high to be adequately replaced my multiple, lesser talents or a cadre of draft picks.

I have been thinking about the idea of the best player more and more in recent days after we got through our first weekend of playoff basketball (and, in some cases, into game 2’s). At the time I am writing this this is where each playoff series stands:

  • Warriors 1, Blazers 0
  • Spurs 2, Grizzlies 0
  • Rockets 1, Thunder 0
  • Clippers 1, Jazz 1
  • Celtics 0, Bulls 2
  • Cavs 2, Pacers 0
  • Raptors 1, Bucks 1
  • Wizards 1, Hawks 0

Looking at those results, I’d argue the best player theory is well on its way to holding true. Here’s who I’d label the best guy from each series (in some cases, I’ll name two guys if I think it’s close):

  • Kevin Durant, Steph Curry (both Warriors)
  • Kawhi Leonard (Spurs)
  • James Harden (Rockets), Russell Westbrook (Thunder)
  • Chris Paul (Clippers)
  • Jimmy Butler (Bulls)
  • LeBron James (Cavs)
  • Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks)
  • John Wall (Wizards)

Of course basketball remains a team sport and there will be cases where even if a team has the best player, an accumulation of really good (to legitimately great) players on the other team will make the difference in a playoff series. After all, playoff preparation, with its hyper-focused game-plans can mean that even the best player in a series can be neutralized or simply overcome by a more complete roster on the other side. We’ve seen this throughout history and this year will be no different.

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In the latest Laker Film Room Podcast, Pete and I are joined by @T1m_NBA to talk about the season that was. Tim, who has an analytics background at a major Division I college program, brings a ton of specific team and player stats to the table to help summarize what we saw on the court, while also challenging and reconfirming our conventional thoughts on each Laker player.

We had a great time on this pod, but brace yourself — it’s long. Like, Brandon Ingram long. Click through to listen to the entire discussion.

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A common theme from the final two-plus months of the season was this idea that all of the players were now “on notice” regarding their future with the team. With Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka taking over for the dispatched Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak, the narrative (for lack of a better word) became one of the players needing to “impress their new bosses” and “show that they belong on the team” for the future.

It got to the point where an uptick in play by some of the young players (ahem, D’Angelo Russell) was, at times, attributed to Magic and Pelinka coming on board and inspiring guys to play better/harder. And I’m sure there’s some truth to that. In my experience, whenever a new boss comes on board, you want to reinforce your value by working hard and putting out your best effort. I would imagine this concept is even more relevant in professional sports.

How much this idea was real and how much of it was projecting by media, fans, etc doesn’t really matter, honestly. What does matter, though, is that the tables are now turning away from the players and back onto Magic and Pelinka who, in their first off-season running the team, are themselves about to be on notice.

While Pelinka noted in his media session following the team’s exit interviews that the players were going to be held to a certain standard of excellence, he also noted that the message of living up that standard applied to him, Magic, and their staff too. And while that’s a nice soundbite, the fact is, now is really their time to turn the vision they want for the team into an executable plan which can start to bear fruit.

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The Lakers concluded their season on Wednesday with a loss to the Warriors to snap their 5 game win streak, then had a marathon session of exit interviews on Thursday to officially close the books on the 2016-17 campaign. We’ll have more thoughts on the this year over the course of a long break from actual games during the off-season, but it was nice to hear the players, coach, and General Manager reflect on the year that was and offer some insights into the next steps.

After listening to most all of the full sessions, a few themes arose.

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It was one year ago today that Kobe Bryant played his last NBA game. Around the league, it was #MambaDay – a celebration of a player whose 20 year career influenced the league like few have. Kobe did not disappoint in his farewell performance, either. Scoring an astounding 60 points on an equally astounding 50 shots, it was more than a night to remember – it was a night which added to a mystique and legend few players in the history of the league possess.

After the game, I wrote the following:

Kobe provided us a night for the ages; he gave us a moment to seal away as ours forever. He turned a night which was supposed to be a sad one filled with teary-eyed goodbyes into a celebration filled with smiles and cheers and did I really just see that? reactions.

In other words, he was Kobe Bryant again.

I will remember this game for the rest of my life. It wasn’t a championship sealing win. There will be no parade down Figueroa. But the feeling of watching a player who has meant so much — to me as a person, to an organization, to a city, to so many fans around the world — was more than just a regular game.

It was one last glimpse into what made 20 years of watching him play such an event and reflective of how he, more often than not, seemed to understand how to turn those events into unforgettable memories. Kobe Bean Bryant. There will never be another quite like him. Goodbye, one last time.

Re-reading those words now, a year later, I still have trouble grasping it actually happened. But now that we are a year removed, it allows us to look back and remember all that went into that night and all the special moments it produced for fans and those in attendance. With that, here are a few of the best posts, videos, and reflections floating around the internet today. Hope you enjoy a trip back in time as we remember #MambaDay.

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I’m going to keep this short and sweet. Tonight is the Lakers’ final game of the season. And while there is a lot to discuss about how this season went compared to expectations and what we wanted, there will be plenty of time for all of that. The postmortem on this season will take some time write and to digest, and this is neither the time nor the format.

What I will say is, that whatever this season was for you and whether you enjoyed it or not, it’s now basically over. There will be no more Lakers games to cheer for or scream at, to be happy about or disappointed in. The playoffs will start soon and that offers it’s own level of excitement and intrigue for basketball fans, but having the Lakers missing from the 2nd season for the 4th straight year (even though that was to be expected before the season), is just another reminder of the growth and improvement still needed. Again, though, this is another topic for another day.

The Lakers are looking to close their season on a winning note, though. Winners of 5 straight, the team is playing with and for each other for longer stretches. They’re making winning plays down the stretch on both ends of the floor. And while it’s easy to point to the flukiness of this part of the year or the specific motives of the opponents in each contest, I like that the Lakers are not only playing well enough to win, but doing those extra things needed to close out games. Whether this impacts them in May’s lottery remains to be seen, but I’m going to enjoy this stretch anyway.

Lastly, thanks to all of you who visit the site every day and read what we do here. This site is nearly 13 years old and I’ve been running it since the team’s run to the championship in 2010 (while being a contributor for years before that). This site means something to me and being able to do this and have folks join me every day, be it by reading our analysis or jumping into the comments section, is special. So, again, thank you for being a part of that.

Now, enjoy tonight’s game as best you can. And since the team is locked into “3rd”, why not cheer them on to end the season with six straight W’s.

Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on Spectrum Sportsnet.

Game 81. The team’s final home game of the season. Winners of 4 straight, playing a Pelicans team that will sit DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis. They will be without D’Angelo Russell on their own end, who is in Louisville with family to mourn the death of his grandmother and tend to family issues two days after hitting a game winning 3 pointer on the day he found out of her passing.

If, like me, you thought the end of the Lakers’ season was just going to be a waltz towards the lottery….man. Not so much.

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In this episode of the Laker Film Room Podcast, Pete and I dive into the Lakers 4 game win streak, how they team is pulling off theses W’s, what (if any) staying power this improved play has from an individual and team perspective, and whether these extra wins are worth the 8.9% shift in lottery odds.

We also get into some listener questions, including D’Angelo Russell’s perception in the media, Zubac’s potential as a starting C, and much more. We had some fun in this one, so I hope you enjoy it. Click through to listen below to listen.

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