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The Los Angeles Lakers pulled off the seemingly unthinkable last week when they hit one of the biggest homeruns in franchise history by acquiring Dwight Howard in a four-team trade. Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss have proven that their commitment to adding more championship banners to the franchise has never been more strong given the way they have shaped up the roster in this offseason.

The purple and gold acquired the best center in the league, a certified game changer at both ends of the floor, but it’s still worth visiting what exactly that means for the Lakers when we break things down. In order to do so, Forum Blue & Gold reached out to Eddy Rivera of Magic Basketball to obtain some insights on the big man:

“With Dwight, you’re getting the best defensive player in the NBA (only LeBron is his peer defensively). I think Mike Brown will have a field day coming up with schemes tailored to maximize Dwight’s strengths on defense. On offense, 1/5 pick-and-rolls with Nash and Dwight will be devastating. And with the mere presence of Nash, Kobe, and Pau on the court, Dwight should have a field day in the low post with his scoring and passing. 

“Dwight represents a far better fit with the new-look Lakers, as opposed to Bynum, because of his ability to get the most out of Nash (and vice-versa) in pick-and-roll sets, as well as his ability to make a far-reaching impact on defense — like hide Nash’s defensive deficiencies, for example. And because of that, I fully expect L.A. to be a devastating team based on talent and fit alone. How good they can be ultimately falls on Brown’s coaching ability.”

Most will look at what Howard brings to the table defensively and honestly, it would be hard not to do. Indeed, according to basketball value, last season the Orlando Magic boasted a defensive rating of 101.52 with the big man on the floor, but that figure ballooned to 108.60 when he was off the court. A big reason for that was his ability to protect the paint.

D12’s gifts on the defensive end shine bright when he is asked to be a help defender as he finds ways to either block or simply change shots all the while avoiding fouls. Howard’s instincts and basketball IQ make it as such that he is constantly in a position to help out his teammates should they get burned on the perimeter.

And yet, he still has more to offer defensively.

The big man’s foot speed, long arms and defensive technique make him one of the best pick-and-roll defenders in the league given that he is able to successfully execute every type of coverage needed to thwart the screen roll action. Howard can hedge out strong on the ball handler and recover in time to protect the paint, trap the man with the ball or play off him without necessarily exposing himself to getting burned off the bounce.

Consequently, teams that are anchored defensively by Dwight Howard promise to protect the paint like a fortress. According to NBA.com’s advanced stats tool, when the former Olympian was on the court for the Magic last season, Orlando only surrendered 33.4 points in the paint per game when projected over 48 minutes. When the former Defensive Player of the Year was off the court mind you, those figures went up to 44.1 points in the paint per game (once again, projected over 48 minutes).

The Lakers as a whole last season gave up 41.5 points in the paint per game and thus stand to benefit from the big man’s presence on the defensive end.  

Howard is a defensive ace that should more than likely upgrade the Lakers’ defense, but he also brings something else to the table: offense.

As Eddy Rivera stated, Howard will be a perfect fit when playing with Steve Nash because of his ability to catch and finish in the pick-and-roll as well as Nash’s ability to deliver the ball in such a setting. According to MySynergySports, Dwight Howard converted 74 percent of his field goal attempts — he shot the ball 73 times in such situations last season — last season in the screen-and-roll action. That’s a staggering conversion rate, but given that he does a good job of catching the ball and then going up and finishing strong over defenders, it makes sense.

But just for comparison’s sake, let’s take a look at Andrew Bynum in the same situation. Given that the former Laker big man often towered over his defenders and did a good job of getting position right next to the basket as the roll man in the pick-and-roll, one would expect him to convert more than his fair share of attempts in this setting. MySynergySports tells us that the All-Star center converted 57.1 percent of his field goal attempts — 35 such attempts — last season as the roll man in the pick-and-roll action, which is an impressive figure all by itself. And really, that puts into perspective just how much of an excellent finisher Howard is.

This becomes quite tricky for opposing defenses when Howard keeps setting screens and rolls to the basket because he typically attracts of wave of defenders; which is how the Magic shooters consistently got open last season.

Although the Lakers only converted 32.6 percent of their 3-point field goals last season (tied for 25th in the NBA), Howard will help them consistently get open looks from long-range but it will also open up the court for midrange shooters such as Kobe Bryant, Antawn Jamison, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash to name a few. And well, let’s just say that if you had to rely on these players to hit an open jumper to save your life, you’d feel pretty confident about your odds.

Howard comes to the Lakers with an effective but not quite aesthetic post game as well as athleticism destined to bring more highlights to the franchise but he also comes with a glaring weakness. Those that followed the Lakers in the Shaq era are quite familiar with it: the team will get in the bonus early and probably lead the league in free throw attempts, but they will miss their fair share as well given D12’s inability to convert a high percentage of his freebies.

With that said, provided that he is the same player prior to surgery on his back, the Lakers are getting a once in a generation type of talent that just happens to perfectly fit with his new roster.

Can we get the season to start already?

Lakers Countdown: At #7…

J.M. Poulard —  August 12, 2012

When the Decision happened, LeBron James became the symbol of the spoiled athlete that failed to understand just what was happening around him in “real life”. The end result was that he instantly became a villain and represented everything that was wrong about professional sports in the minds of many. Consequently he was booed in every road arena even though he never truly understood why.

How history treats him remains to be seen, but James certainly was not the first athlete to make a questionable decision in terms of how he conducted himself as a professional.

For instance, Kobe Bryant requested to be traded in 2007 but that has since been swept under the rug after winning back-to-back titles afterwards.

Winning tends to make people forget things.

But sometimes, odd actions can make people forget winners.

The best illustration of this clock in at #7 in our Los Angeles Lakers countdown of greatest title teams…

The 1981-82 Lakers

After winning the NBA championship in Magic Johnson’s rookie season in 1980, many thought the Lakers had a chance to get back to the mountaintop in the ensuing season.

Mind you, Johnson was injured early in the season and thus only appeared in 37 games. Despite the prolonged absence of one of their best playmakers and rebounders, the purple and gold managed to win 54 games on the strength of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jamaal Wilkes’ scoring. Also, Norm Nixon’s ability to run the offense helped a talented Lakers squad play at a high level.

The team seemed as though they might make some noise in the postseason but then they fell apart in the first round of the playoffs just as the team was getting used to playing with Magic Johnson.

With the team having faced an early season exit, they made some minor tweaks and acquired Mitch Kupchak and Kurt Rambis to help shore up the rebounding in the offseason; and later acquired former three-time scoring champ Bob McAdoo early in the ensuing 1981-82 regular season.

The franchise made news by signing Magic Johnson to a 25-year $25 million contract that led many to wonder if owner Jerry Buss liked Magic Johnson just a little too much.

The Lakers started out the season by once again being a very talented squad but some around the team felt as though head coach Paul Westhead was holding the team back with his half court offense. They had stopped being Showtime and instead became a team that brought the ball up the court and executed instead of consistently outrunning their opponents.

Magic went on to voice his complaints and requested to be traded, feeling as though his talents weren’t being maximized under Westhead. And just like that, Westhead was fired despite a 7-4 record at the time.

Had Kanye West been the artist back then that he is today, everyone would have said that the lyrics from his hit song Power were tailor made for Magic:

“No one man should have all that power.”

The former Michigan State Spartan was booed in every opposing arena and was viewed as an athlete with a sense of entitlement and a man possessing far too much power with his franchise. In an odd way, this situation somewhat overshadowed just how deep and talented the team was as well as what it accomplished.

The 1981-82 Los Angeles Lakers had four Hall of Fame players (Abdul-Jabbar, Johnson, McAdoo and Wilkes) as well as a stud point guard in Norm Nixon — yes, he was listed as the team’s point guard and Magic was listed as a guard/forward — that helped make plays.

The team may have had one of the best guard pairings ever when we look at their production during the 1981-82 regular season:

  • Norm Nixon: 17.6 points per game, 8 assists per game and 1.6 steals per game on 49.3 percent field goal shooting.
  • Magic Johnson: 18.6 points per game, 9.5 assists per game, 9.6 rebounds per game and 2.7 steals per game on 53.7 percent field goal shooting.

As good as the guards were, things became infinitely more difficult for opponents when the frontcourt became involved when arguably the best center in NBA history had two exquisite guards feeding him the ball when the team played in the half court.

And just in case that wasn’t problematic enough, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was surrounded by great scorers in Bob McAdoo (coming off the bench) and Jamaal Wilkes.

With Pat Riley at the helm, the Lakers finished the season with a 57-25 record, tops in the Western Conference. They sported the second best offensive efficiency in the league and the 10th best defensive efficiency.

The Western Conference playoffs were a mere footnote for the Lakers who obliterated the Phoenix Suns (46-36) in the first round by an average scoring margin of 12.7 points in a four-game sweep.

The following series against the San Antonio Spurs (48-34) proved to be quite similar to the outcome against the Suns, as the Lakers swept them and won every game against the Spurs by an average of 8.7 points.

The Los Angeles Lakers entered the NBA Finals — at the time, a team only needed to win two rounds to advance to the finals — as underdogs to the Philadelphia 76ers (58-24) given that they did not have home court advantage.

And yet, as if to come full circle, Magic Johnson led the purple and gold to another title against the same 76ers team that had lost against them two years prior in the title round.

Los Angeles won in six games and kept Julius Erving’s title drought alive for one last season.

The ’82 Lakers boasted an impressive 12-2 playoff record and sported an average scoring margin of plus-6.1 during the postseason. In addition, when we consider the roster top to bottom, there is no doubt that this is one of the greatest teams to ever hit the hardwood.

Why seventh then?

For a team as loaded as the ’82 Lakers, one can only wonder why they only won 57 games especially in a rather weak Western Conference. In addition, they dismantled their conference opponents during the playoffs but both teams fail to even win 50 games during the regular season, thus making the accomplishment a little less impressive.

In addition, this squad may have only had two losses during their postseason run, but they were by 16 and 33 points; meaning they were blown out of the building. Perhaps it’s nitpicking, but as we climb along the ladder of best Los Angeles Lakers teams in franchise history, these small details will add up and end up making the difference.

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.

Fresh off a victory in the 2009 NBA Finals, the Los Angeles Lakers knew they had a title team as opposed to perhaps just thinking they had a championship roster. With that said, the Lakers wanted to make a small tweak to the roster and ended up perhaps changing the course of their fate with this seemingly small player transaction.

Trevor Ariza had played well under the tutelage of Phil Jackson and had perfectly complemented the Kobe-Gasol combo with his defense, spot up shooting as well as his ability to finish out in transition thanks to his athleticism. Mind you, he had now become a free agent and was looking to secure a long term deal that represented his value to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Instead, the franchise went in another direction and signed the artist formerly known as Ron Artest. The former St. John’s player had already manifested his interest in joining the team in a conversation with Kobe Bryant in the showers at the conclusion of the 2008 Finals — this actually happened — despite not actually playing in the championship series.

Metta World Peace was a bulldog.

In the 2009 playoffs, as member of the Houston Rockets, MWP had chased down Kobe after receiving an elbow simply to give him a piece of his mind and to ensure that such actions were never to reproduce themselves. His tough talk combined with his tough play earned him the respect of the Black Mamba, and the seeds had been planted for him to join the Lakers.

Mind you, as much as the move was done to help bolster the team, the acquisition of World Peace would give the Lakers a new blanket to put on the likes of Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James and Paul Pierce should these teams meet in the postseason.

Indeed, Ron Ron was a physical defender that intimidated opponents with his strength, elbows and kiss blows. And yet, many thought that should the Lakers fail to repeat, it would be his fault given the loose canon stigma that followed him around since the Malice at the Palace.

The regular season was somewhat uninteresting by Lakers standards quite frankly.

They finished with a 57-25 record and finished 11th in offensive efficiency and fourth in defensive efficiency. Part of the reason why the regular season was somewhat of a yawner was the fact that Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum missed a combined 43 games. With players in and out of the lineup at times, and the players knowing they possessed championship pedigree, the regular season became a mere formality of sorts.

The most important thing for the team was that they be able to get by the 82-game schedule and start peaking by the time the postseason started with a healthy roster. This may sound obvious, but other teams tend to put more stock into the regular season, hoping that a top spot in the standings will earn them home court advantage in the postseason.

With Kobe Bryant playing on one leg by most accounts, the Los Angeles Lakers opened the postseason against a young up and coming Oklahoma City team that pushed the series to six games. The Lakers were victorious in Game 6 on the road and largely benefitted from the presence of Metta World Peace who hounded Kevin Durant into shooting 35 percent during the series.

The second round saw the purple and gold buy a quick cup of coffee in Utah, where they swept the Jazz in four games and defeated them by an average of plus-7.3 points.

The Western Conference Finals pitted the Lakers against one of Kobe’s most hated rivals: the Phoenix Suns.

The Lakers won the first two home games by a combined 33 points, which had many thinking this might be another sweep. Mind you, Steve Nash and his Suns proved to be resilient at home and won the following two games by an average of nine points. The Lakers eventually bounced back and won the next two contests to close out the series thanks in large part to Kobe Bryant’s spectacular play.

The former league MVP torched Phoenix in the 2010 conference finals to the tune of 33.7 points per game, 7.2 rebounds per game and 8.3 assists per game on 52.9 percent field goal shooting.

Just as this was happening, the Boston Celtics were busy taking out the Orlando Magic on the other side of the bracket, setting up a rematch of the 2008 NBA Finals that the Celtics won at the expense of the Lakers.

As fans, media members and players would find out, the 2010 NBA Finals would have it all. History, heart, talent, mental toughness, fatigue, broken bodies, seesaw matches, clutch shots and brilliant individual performances.

With the series tied at two games apiece, Lakers fans would watch Kobe Bryant singlehandedly keep his team within striking distance on the road in Boston with a masterful performance in which he just made shot after shot despite the terrific defense of the Celtics. Bryant would finish Game 5 of the 2010 finals with 38 points on 13-for-27 shooting and would get little help from his teammates as Los Angeles would lose the contest and be faced with a 2-3 series deficit with the games now going back to the Staples Center.

In Game 6, the Celtics would play like a team with a series advantage whereas the Lakers would play with a huge sense of desperation and blow out the road team and set up a winner take all Game 7.

The deciding game of the series would start with Kobe Bryant misfiring on several forced contested jump shots and his opponents would capitalize on the misses and take an early 23-14 first quarter lead. The Lakers would gradually claw back into the game thanks to their defense and rebounding. Indeed, by game’s end, L.A. would hold Boston to 79 points on 40.8 percent field goal shooting and would destroy the Celtics on the offensive glass, collecting 23 offensive rebounds to the C’s eight.

The Lakers would display the physical and mental toughness that was lacking in 2008 in Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals by not only standing up to the Celtics; but by actually manhandling them.

The Lakers would have the confetti fall down on the court and see Kobe Bryant run the length of the court with the basketball and lifting his five ringers to remind everyone he had won his fifth title.

And yet, despite all the firepower on the roster, the Los Angeles Lakers might not have won the title if not for Metta World Peace’s 20 points as well as his timely shooting in the fourth quarter.

The 2010 Lakers would finish the postseason with a plus-4.3 average scoring margin and a 16-7 playoff record much like the 2009 edition. One would think that given the superior regular season record of the 2009 team, that they would outrank the 2010 unit and that is certainly a terrific argument.

However, the 2010 team played well as a unit despite injuries to key players during the regular season and played with a much sharper mental edge than the 2009 team. Statistically, the group that defeated Orlando in five games in the NBA Finals was better, but in terms of fight and resiliency, the 2010 squad that now had championship experience holds the edge.

It’s worth noting, that although it did not factor in their ranking; some fans may remember this team Lakers far longer than some of the other ones for two reasons:

I. They defeated the Boston Celtics

II. The words “Queensbridge” and “Kobe passed me the ball!” that were uttered by Ron Artest during postgame conferences after defeating Boston in Game 7. These are imprinted in the minds of anyone associated with the franchise in any way, shape or form.

The 2009-10 Los Angeles Lakers conquered their demons and also happened to manage to be back-to-back champions, a feat that has become rather rare in the modern NBA. Without question, they were a great team and the title confirmed that. But as one reporter asked at the conclusion of the 2010 finals, we know what the championship meant to the team, but what could it also have meant to a single individual? The answer…

“I got one more than Shaq”

A few days ago, we unveiled our new project at FB&G, where we ranked the 11 best title teams in franchise history since the team relocated to Los Angeles. After looking at the 11th best team, we resume the countdown by presenting to you the team that clocked in at the 10th spot…

The 2008-09 Lakers

During the spring of 2007, Kobe Bryant famously went on the air with Stephen A. Smith and proclaimed his distaste for the Lakers organization and made the statement that he wished to be traded. The team tried to accommodate his request but given his immense talent as well as his salary, any team trading for the services of Kobe Bean would have to essentially gut their roster to acquire him.

Thus, the superstar guard started the season with the Lakers and performed to his usual standards as the team played well under the tutelage of Phil Jackson.

And then the things became interesting.

The Los Angeles Lakers acquired Pau Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies in a move that completely shifted the balance of power in the Western Conference. No longer were the Lakers a team contending for the playoffs; instead they had now become a legit championship contender.

The purple and gold finished the season with a 57-25 record and Kobe Bryant earned the 2007-08 MVP award.

Many fans hoped that the league’s most ancient rivalry would be revived with the Lakers and Celtics facing off in the Finals and they got their wish.

The Los Angeles Lakers entered the 2008 NBA Finals as favorites to win the crown despite ceding home court advantage to the Boston Celtics. Indeed, the Lakers’ execution of the triangle offense coupled with the crisp interior passing of Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol as well as the mere presence of Kobe Bryant was enough for most to think Los Angeles would prevail.

Instead, the team was defeated in six games as fans wondered aloud whether a healthy Andrew Bynum — he sat out the postseason due to injury – would helped have change the outcome. Boston was physical and played tougher than their opponents and thus one of the biggest takeaways from the 2008 championship series was that Pau Gasol and both Lamar Odom had been punked.

Gasol got the lion’s share of the blame and still to this day gets labeled as soft because of those six games against the Celtics.

As bad as the defeat was, former Lakers superstar Shaquille O’Neal made things worse by freestyling a week later at a club about Kobe’s inability to get things done without him.

It was said, the Lakers could not recapture the title without Shaq…

Instead of retooling the roster, Los Angeles stood pat and welcomed back Trevor Ariza and Andrew Bynum who had both missed the 2008 playoffs due to injury. Ariza gave the team athleticism and solid perimeter defense while Bynum gave the Lakers rebounding, shot blocking and scoring at the rim.

With Phil Jackson still leading the way, the Lakers essentially owned the 2008-09 regular season, going 65-17. The team’s record was impressive, but so was their performance at both ends of the court. Indeed, the 2008-09 Lakers finished the regular season third in offensive efficiency and sixth in defensive efficiency.

A return trip to the NBA Finals seemed almost like a formality.

As the 2009 playoffs started, the Lakers easily dispatched the Utah Jazz in five games and set up a second round matchup against a gritty Houston Rockets team that was playing without an injured Tracy McGrady; who was still a good player at the time.

The teams split the first two games in Los Angeles, and then the Lakers regained home court advantage with a Game 3 victory; and benefitted from a fortuitous turn of events: Yao Ming broke his left foot.

With the Houston Rockets competing without their star center and their third leading scorer (McGrady), many assumed the Lakers would have a cakewalk to the Western Conference Finals; but that was not to be. Instead, the Rockets managed to win two more games and forced a Game 7 back at the Staples Center where the purple and gold prevailed.

The Lakers then dispatched Carmelo Anthony’s Denver Nuggets in six games in the Western Conference Finals despite the Nuggets’ rugged and bruising defenders that essentially pounded on both Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol.

One year after faltering in the NBA Finals against the Boston Celtics, the Los Angeles Lakers made it back to the championship round and found the Orlando Magic waiting for them.

Kobe Bryant was his spectacular self in the 2009 NBA Finals and played brilliantly. But one player truly in need of redemption was Pau Gasol, given the events that transpired in the previous spring.

Those that questioned the Spaniard’s toughness at the time were forced to eat up their words as the big man played like a stud against the Magic. Indeed, Gasol controlled the paint defensively, guarded Dwight Howard and scored on the block when called upon. By the time the series was over, Pau had averaged 18.6 points per game, 9.2 rebounds per game and 1.8 blocks per game on 60 percent field goal shooting in the title round and even unleashed a lethal scowl on Mickael Pietrus for fouling him excessively hard from behind on a dunk.

Between Gasol’s play, Kobe’s scoring, Bynum’s defense, Odom’s passing and the timely shooting of Derek Fisher and Trevor Ariza; the Orlando Magic never really stood a chance, falling in five games to the Los Angeles Lakers.

This Lakers team proved to be a great champion during their postseason run, sporting a 16-7 record and a plus-7.2 average scoring margin.

In addition, this team will be remembered as perhaps the most important one to Kobe Bryant’s legacy given his ability to finally get over the hump and lead the franchise back to the mountaintop without the help of a certain Hall of Fame center that left Hollywood five years prior.

Mind you, as great as this team was, it gets lost a little in the rich history of the franchise because of their opponents. Through no fault of their own, the Lakers dispatched a host of teams that no one will truly remember and struggled to take out a Houston Rockets team that was missing its two best players for most of the series.

Oddly enough, when looking at health, talent and production from key positions, this might just be the best Lakers team of the Gasol era, but ultimately this team feels like it should have been a little more dominant than it actually was.