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Monday, June 01, 2009

Why Orlando could win but the Lakers should…

Ok the title is not the greatest, I really hate when sports writers waffle and refuse to pick a side, yet at the same time I understand it.

Well if I am going to just wantonly give a prediction, I will say Orlando in 6 with the Lakers having the choking label attached to them!

See looking at that sentence you would say, come on he is crazy, if you are going to pick Orlando it has to be a hard fought series going all the way. BUT, history favors the home team winning game 7s so if I predict a 7 game series and I trust history I would have to give the win to LA, right? And history says the Lakers struggle against speedy guards …Skip to my lou is so much better and faster than Derek Fisher at this point in their careers that the point guard advantage is strongly in favor of Orlando?

The Lakers were the most talented team in the playoffs by far. I know many predicted Denver over the Lakers, but I think most of those predictions were based on hope and fatigue at the Laker hype and Kobe and Lebron puppets. In a head to head matchup there are few players on the Denver starting 5 that could replace the Lakers starting 5. Yes they are flashier, much more likeable guys but when you really dig deep down to your core as a fan, do you prefer likeable to championships? Before you answer that think again about John Stockton…very likeable guy…zero wins. Now if you are a Utah fan would you have traded all those years of Stockton for 2 titles with Kobe?

Or Lakers fans who now claim that the best decision was cutting Shaq. Would you have been fine with having discontent in your team but 3 more titles? Or are you really happy with the last 5 years of your team? I know many now claim that it was a great decision to get rid of Shaq but really, how good a decision was it? The team went into a spiral, has the label of petulant and soft and is one of the most hated franchises in the league…with Shaq you would have been hated but champs. And please do not give me the garbage of Kobe threatening to leave if Shaq stayed. Kobe was a petulant child (maybe still is) who pouts when he does not have his way, he has held your franchise ransom time and time again (hell there was even a rumored threat that he would play for the Clippers) bashed team mates and always came back. He was never leaving as long as he thought he could keep winning with Shaq.

But sorry, I have floated so far away from the topic that I could be a plot line on Family Guy (insert random fight with a chicken here). Orlando presents matchup problems for the ‘Talented Lakers’, who on the Lakers is going to guard Dwight Howard? Other than the refs I mean. I am constantly amused by the new ways in which a ‘superstar’ like Dwight does not get ‘superstar’ calls? Does David Stern have a daughter? Did he catch her in bed with D Ho? Did he defile Stern’s wife? What is it? Lebron gets free throws if a fan from the other team stares at him. Dwight has a foul called on him for a clean block on a 3 point attempt that did not even need replay for the world to see how bogus it was.

Is it because he is signed to Adidas? Is the league owned by Nike? The ads would seem to suggest that.

A colleague of mine has for ages drank the kool aid (probably lemon lime or some other weak flavor like that) that D Ho is soft. I have argued that he is not soft, people just do not give him enough credit and are not exposed enough to his games. I now add to that analysis, I think part of the problem is that when he plays ‘hard’ he picks up ridiculous fouls and technicals and thus has to spend so much time on the bench that his ‘soft’ play is necessary for continued minutes.

To buttress this argument I point to the technical that was rescinded by the league. D ho was being mauled under the hoop by Anderson V (one of the sneaky dirty players in the league) catching the ball he goes up strong and gets a basket and an ‘and one’ he flexes like ‘players with passion’ are supposed to react and he gets T-d up for taunting…hmm. I think because he has the body and strength of Shaq but did not build up the cache of good will and publicity that Shaq had received from his brief time at LSU, D Ho is yet to get the respects of the refs. I suspect that by next year some of the ticky tack fouls that he has to deal with now will no longer be a problem and he will be allowed to be more ‘aggressive’.

The 5 best players in the NBA in no particular order are Kobe, Lebron, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Tim Duncan (when healthy – increasingly rare), my Spurs bias says that Tony Parker is knocking on that door, before you laugh completely at that, look at his stats in the last finals, and look at his playoffs stats every year, then get back to me with your laugh. I am not sure where to put Carmelo, I think he could replace Paul…but not sure.

Now the problem for the rest of the league is that on that list of 5, 2 have players on their team that can at any given month be in the top 25 players in the league. Kobe has Gasol and Odom. Duncan has Ginobli and Parker. Lebron has a bunch of scrubs (Boobie it pains me to say this, but you have to be more consistent to rise above the scrub label) and a maybe in Mo Williams. Chris Paul has a decent supporting staff, but it is becoming increasingly apparent that pieces are missing and that maybe he is not quite the leader he needs to be, yet. Dwight Howard has a bunch of adequate shooters surrounding him and a ton of players with that immeasurable statistic, Heart!

So in the finals if we looked solely at stars it would be Kobe – Gasol – Odom – D Fish’s knees - over-rated Bynum – Ariza and some mixture of Walton/Brown/and 24 more fouls to give vs. Dwight Howard – Hedo – Rafer Alston (Skip to my Lou) – possibly Jameer Nelson (I listed Rafer first because of health) and a bunch of players that at this stage are just interchangeable.

So on paper it really should be the Lakers, most of the players on Orlando would struggle to make the Lakers playoff roster yet, Orlando has looked like the more impressive team, how come? I say it must be D Ho!

Point to anyone in this league that can guard him; the only physical presence similar to his is Shaq and Shaq lacks his athleticism. If he is allowed to play free of the simplistic fouls that have plagued him, he could systematically destroy the Lakers front line. The greatest mystery to me of these playoffs is the fact that Anderson Varajo did not foul out every game in the first half.

D Ho has the power of Shaq, the athleticism of Lebron, the shooting touch of Vlade Divac and unfortunately the ball handling skills of a first day porn star. If he improves his handle and his shooting touch he will be unstoppable. Have I mentioned that his free throws have improved to the point that a team cannot risk adopting the hack-a-Dwight strategy?

Kobe will get his points, no one in the league is truly a Kobe Stopper, I am looking at you Ruben Patterson, if you are even still in the league. But I suspect the strategy will have to be to try to contain Kobe while shutting down the rest of the Lakers. Lakers fans will hate hearing this but I love seeing D Fish shoot, if he is out there jacking up shots it means that one less reliable Laker has a chance to touch the ball, “shoot Fish shoot”. The wild card as it almost always is; is Odom. Gasol is guaranteed to be consistent, he will get his points, he will get his rebounds, we will all call him soft but he will do the job he is supposed to do. But, Odom, Odom might average 24/11 or he might disappear and turn in 12/6 performances all series.

Odom is basically part of the beauty of sports and why predictions are so difficult…until the game is actually played you cannot really know what is going to happen. Detroit can beat LA when Shaq and Kobe were already being fitted for their rings. Mine that Bird can win the Derby as a 50-1 underdog; while a filly that was not even in the race goes on to win the next leg of the Triple Crown. A tiny island known more for reggae music than sports can sweep the sprints at the Olympics and take the spotlight from a pot-smoker that floats in a pool. And Superman might decide to put on his cape and deliver some Magic in the NBA finals.

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Cali-J ueber alles in der Welt. Some think that I am mean; (I call them friends), in fact I am not that mean. What I am is sarcastic and dry to the sandpaper level. I have friends that I have never said a kind word to their face, but I praise to the ends of the earth to anyone I know and will defend them to the end. That’s just how I roll! My boys know that I am down for them, my girls know that no matter what I will keep them safe (and occasionally flirt with them [If you are a female friend of mine and think I haven’t flirted with you it just means you didn’t notice, it was extremely subtle or…not yet ]). No one is safe from my sarcasm even my own parents; hence of course as a kid I spent a significant amount of time in punishment. I treat people with respect if I think they deserve it – everyone starts off with the same amount of respect from me (a lot). You don’t need to earn my respect; you have to keep my respect.