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.