Six Pack: Patience Required in Laker Land
HOOPSWORLD’s Senior NBA Analyst Tommy Beer takes you through his weekly musings on the National Basketball Association in his latest installment of The NBA Six Pack…
1. Don’t Throw Bynum Out with the Bathwater:
In the aftermath of an epic collapse, a panicked rush to judgment is to be expected. We have already seen this manifest itself fully out in Los Angeles. Even before the fourth quarter of Sunday’s Game 4 beat-down commenced, the internet was ablaze with the many ways the Lakers could/would completely overhaul their roster. The coroner hadn’t yet completed his autopsy on the 2010-2011 L.A. Lakers, the rumors and trade suggestions began to swirl in earnest.
However, what the Lakers organization needs right now is one big, collective deep breath. Fortunately, they will likely get just that – in the form a league-imposed lockout, expected to shutdown NBA activities in July. There is a moratorium on trades during a lockout, which could serve L.A. well. The best thing for the Lakers is some space in between themselves and that disastrous performance in the postseason. The lockout will provide that.
When the NBA emerges on the other side of the pending financial impasse, Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak and the L.A. front office will have plenty of difficult decisions staring them in the face. However, the Lakers will not, by any means, be dealing from a deficit. L.A. has an abundance of the league’s rarest and most valued goods: talented big men. With Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol, and Andrew Bynum (all gifted athletes 6’10" or taller) on its roster, L.A. enters the off-season with a cadre of coveted commodities.
Thus, after looking at all possible outcomes, having the Lakers return with their current roster intact may actually be the best alternative. There will be roars from the many Los Angelinos to revamp the roster, but is that really advisable? This core group won two straight NBA titles, largely on the strength of Kobe’s greatness and their dominant frontcourt.
For whatever reason, Pau Gasol was clearly not himself this postseason. He averaged 18 ppg during the regular season, yet didn’t reach that point total once in 10 playoff games. Still, we must remember that he was a monster last June. Back in Games 6 and 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals, with Kevin Garnett attempting to intimidate him at every turn, Gasol took over down the stretch. With the Lakers down 3-2, Gasol socred 17 points, grabbed 13 boards, and dished out 9 assists in Game 6. In the deciding seventh game, Pau exploded for 19 points and 18 rebounds. He also chipped in 23 and 14 in the Game 1 victory. He proved he can play under the bright lights last year. And he authored another phenomenal regular season in 2010-2011, which will likely net him another All-NBA selection.
And although Andrew Bynum will be remembered for that idiotic, dangerous, disgusting foul on J.J. Barea in Game 4, he again showed flashes of being a dominant franchise center.
Moreover, does crashing and burning in the second round officially constitute the end of a dynasty? The Spurs won a title in 2003, then lost in the semifinals in 2004. Then won another title in 2005, but lost in the semifinals again in 2006. Yet, they won another title in 2007. Point is, one playoff debacle does not mean the Lakers have reached the end of the line.
Did Phil Jackson lose this team? Yes. However, he is out the door anyway. Was there something eating at the Lakers from the inside over the last few weeks? It seems that way, but is it something a new coach and a few months apart can’t cure?
So, as columns pop up proclaiming the Lakers should trade Gasol for this player, or deal Bynum for that guy (no less an authority than Stephen A. Smith has claimed the Lakers should get rid of Bynum, Gasol, and Odom)- change for changes sake would likely be counter-productive.
Now, if the Lakers have a chance to land Dwight Howard, then all bets are off. If Superman demands his way out of Orlando, then Kupchak and company will do what they have to in order to reel in the best center on planet earth. Outside of Howard, there aren’t too many trades the Lakers could make that would clearly improve their chances of winning a championship next season.
To use a poker term, L.A. is pot-committed with their current squad. The majority of their team is locked into long-term deals. Unless they trade Kobe (which they would never do, for a million ($$) different reasons), their best plan of attack will likely be to get the band back together and hope that whatever ailed them over the last few weeks has run its course.
2. Can Anybody Beat the HEAT?
A month ago, on April 10th, the HEAT hosted the Celtics on a Sunday afternoon in a nationally televised contest. At the time, Miami and Boston were tied for the #2 seed in the Eastern Conference standings. When NBA world woke up that Sunday morning in early April, the landscape looked far, far different than it does today, just 30 days later. Out West, the Spurs boasted the league’s best record. The Lakers, who had lost just once in the whole month of March, were seemingly making a serious run at the NBA’s top overall seed. Meanwhile, the Bulls had pretty much locked up the #1 seed in the East.
Meanwhile, down in Miami, the HEAT were just looking to survive a rocky regular season. Back in October, the only question on South Beach was whether or not the HEAT could eclipse 72 wins. Well, after many bumps in the road and many unexpected losing streaks, Miami was fighting for homecourt advantage in the second round of the playoffs. That game against the C’s would be crucial in deciding the standings. And Miami was facing significant odds, considering that Boston had beaten them all three times the two teams had previously squared off.
It is absolutely amazing to think how drastically the NBA landscape has changed in just 30 days.
Miami won that Sunday matinee and went on to secure the #2 seed. And, as we know, many of the teams sitting pretty a month ago have seen their worlds upended. The Spurs were spanked in the first round by the upstart Grizzlies. The Lakers got swept into oblivion by Dallas. Even Chicago had a tougher time than expected with the Pacers, and are now knotted 2-2 with the Hawks.
Meanwhile, the HEAT cruised past Philadelphia, and now hold a commanding 3-1 lead on Boston. On the eve of these playoffs, I described why I believed Miami had more pressure on them than any team in the sport, by far. Well, a few weeks later, the HEAT are standing tall and confident, while other elite squads have crumbled.
In fact, Miami’s victory in Boston last night could be considered cathartic on many levels. LeBron, through his inspired and clutch performance, vanquished some playoff demons. And the much-maligned Chris Bosh, who had admitted the moment was too big for him in Game 3, played a crucial role in Game 4. Bosh’s tip-in in overtime was arguably the biggest basket of his career thus far.
So, as we look around the league right now, the HEAT have to be considered the odds-on favorites to take home the title, right? Assuming they get by Boston, they’ll clearly be favored against either Atlanta or Chicago. Should Miami then advance to the Finals, they would likely be favorites there as well (although plenty of folks would pick the Mavs – if they made it that far.)
Looking out on the horizon even further, it is hyperbole to claim that the HEAT will be favored at the start of every playoff series they partake in over the next few seasons (assuming everyone stays healthy)? That doesn’t meant they will win anything, but it does say something. Not only do they have an abundance of talent, it appears the Super Friends came together at the right time. With the Lakers, Spurs, and C’s (who have combined to win 10 of the last 12 titles) all looking long in the tooth, there appears to be a power vacuum out there.
Let’s check back one month from now, and see how the NBA landscape looks on June 10th…
3. Quotes of the Week:
"It’s still broken… I mean it’s a painful feeling, but I’ll be fine." - Rajon Rondo
"We’ve been trying to explain to Ron [Artest] that there’s a reason that he’s open." – Jim Cleamons
4. Dunks of the Week:
Jeff Teague dunks on Joakim Noah’s bun
Definitely not the NBA playoffs, but definitely a dunk that should be seen
Shannon Brown with a very rare highlight for the Lakers this postseason
Tyson Chandler catches the Oop from Jet Terry
5. Tweets of the Week:
@johnschuhmann: Clearly Dwight (Howard) should come to NY/NJ, where the newspapers never speculate.
@BrettEP: Magic called Bynum’s hit classless, which it was. But he shouldn’t be the one saying it: http://bit.ly/m8tvEJ (via @ericpincus)
@AdamSchefter: On 60 Minutes, President Obama never was more impressive. On why he didn’t release photos of Osama: "We don’t spike the football."
@russbengtson: Derrick Rose is absurd. I think he just committed an offensive foul on space and time.
6. Elias Sports Bureau Stats of the Week:
* From Elias: Both NBA games went to overtime on Monday night – the eighth day in NBA history, and the first since May 16, 1995, on which two games have gone to overtime. But Monday was the first day in NBA history on which there was more than one game played and every game was decided in an extra session.
* LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh outlasted the Celtics as the Heat took a three-games-to-one lead in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Miami’s Big Three combined to score the team’s last 31 points (including all 29 in the fourth quarter and overtime) – and the Big Three either scored or assisted on each of the Heat’s last 63 points (over the game’s final 36 minutes)! James, Wade and Bosh combined to score 84.7 percent of the Heat’s 98 points. In Miami’s Game One victory in this series, James, Wade and James Jones combined to score 85.9 percent of the Heat’s 99 points. Prior to this series, no team in NBA history had won a playoff game in which it scored at least 98 points and saw three players combine for such a high percentage of its points.
* Kevin Garnett made only one of 10 field-goal attempts in Game Four against the Heat. He had never produced a field-goal percentage that low in any of his 103 previous NBA playoff games, and he hasn’t produced a field-goal percentage that low in any of the 1,070 NBA regular-season games in which he has taken at least 10 shots. In NBA history, only three other players who had previously scored 20,000 regular-season points have suffered through a playoff game in which they shot no better than 10 percent from the floor (minimum: 10 field-goal attempts). Karl Malone had a 2-for-20 game for the Jazz in 1997, Clyde Drexler went 1 for 13 for the Rockets the next year, and Ray Allen went 0 for 13 for the Celtics in Game Three of last year’s Finals.
* From Elias: Get a load of the score-by-periods in the Heat-Celtics game: Boston scored 31 points in the opening quarter, then followed with 22, 20, 13 and then four points in the overtime period. Miami scored 28 points in the first quarter, followed by 22, 19, 17 and then 12 in overtime. It was the first overtime game in NBA playoff history in which each team had a declining points total in each period.
* The Thunder outlasted the Grizzlies, 133-123, in a three-overtime marathon in Memphis, evening the Western Conference Semifinals at two wins apiece. The game came on the heels of the Grizzlies’ overtime victory on Saturday. It’s only the second playoff series in NBA history that included a triple overtime game and another overtime game – the other being the classic Bulls-Celtics first-round series two years ago that included four overtime games, including one three-OT game and another two-OT game.
* Russell Westbrook scored 40 points and Kevin Durant 35 in Oklahoma City’s triple-overtime win. It was the first NBA playoff game in 11 years in which one player scored at least 40 points while a teammate had at least 35. The last such game came in 2000, when Reggie Miller and Jalen Rose each scored 40 points in the Pacers’ 108-91 win over the 76ers. The last pair to do it on the road? Sleepy Floyd (42) and Hakeem Olajuwon (41) for the Rockets at Dallas in the 1988 playoffs.
* The Lakers faced an uphill climb when they entered the fourth period with a 24-point deficit, but Los Angeles never made a game of it as they were outscored 36-24 the rest of the way. The Mavericks became the first team in NBA history to sweep a best-of-seven playoff series while outscoring their opponent by at least five points during the fourth quarter of each game.