Monday, May 14, 2012

What Round 1 Told Us About the Current State of Los Angeles Basketball



The Lakers and Clippers both played seven game opening round playoff series – and were part of the only two series to do so. In a fast paced season, that alone may impact their play in the conference semifinals. But their play on the court in Round 1 of the NBA Playoffs is what may be most worrisome. Let’s start with the Clippers team that has risen from the cellar of the NBA and then move to Kobe and his Lakers.

As you can read about in my playoff picks, I did not expect Lob City to advance past the Grizzlies. The lack of familiarity in the LAC team run by CP3, Blake & Co. is not their fault – it’s simply the result of a shortened season and the fact it’s their first season together. Undoubtedly, the duo is very talented – and that is what got them through Round 1. We all know what Griffin and Paul bring to the floor, but Nick Young can shoot, Kenyon Martin can still play, and they have a never-say-die attitude and will to win. In the fourth quarter of Game 7 against the Grizzlies, they went on 11-2 run. Sound familiar? It should, because they went on a 28-3 run to close out a historic Game 1 performance.

So now they move on to play San Antonio. Blake Griffin will meet his match in Tim Duncan, and Tony Parker can compete with Chris Paul. San Antonio is the precise opposite of Los Angeles – it seems like Duncan, Parker, and Popovich have been together forever.

San Antonio swept the Jazz quickly and quietly and should be well rested for LAC. Popovich shouldn’t need to motivate Duncan and Parker, because they have been there before. And for a number 1 seed to have no scorers in the regular season above 20 PPG, San Antonio knows how to make team-oriented basketball work.

The reality is the Clippers can compete with the aging Spurs certainly better than the Jazz, but ultimately the Spurs should outlast Lob City. It will be a fun series as talent meets experience, but for this round, experience will win.

Now how about the Lakers? I picked the Lakers to win in five games against Denver (as opposed to a sweep), mainly because Artest’s absence due to the suspension for this ugly hit on OKC’s James Harden. But I though Kobe, Bynum, and Pau could more than handle Artest’s brief hiatus. (Sorry, I can’t call him “World Peace” after that elbow.) They did, but it took a seven game roller coaster ride.

For the Pau-thetic effort Gasol put forth in Game 6 against the Nuggets in Round 1, his 23 and 17 performance in Game 7 showed that Game 6 was more of a fluke than the standard. Steve Blake was nailing threes at an unexpectedly high rate, Bynum has been performing at an impressive level, and Kobe is, well…Kobe. He was non-existent in the fourth quarter of Game 7 until the end, where he sealed the game with an impressive fade away three pointer. Yet somehow they managed to lose three of seven games to a Nuggets team with no prolific scorer and a big man who once tried dunking from the free throw line in a game. That is worrisome.

The DEN vs. LAL series certainly showed Artest, however crazy he may be, is an integral part of the Lakers gameplan. But they won’t be able to stop OKC. Ibaka and Perkins can shut down Gasol and Bynum, and at this point in their respective careers, Durant is a better scorer than Kobe. Plus, having the Sixth Man of the Year (James Harden) and Russell Westbrook just gives the Thunder more weapons than the defense led by Artest can handle. The only chance that the Lakers have is if the Thunder get off to a slow start because of their extended rest period from Round 1. Barring that or injuries like the Heat’s Chris Bosh suffered, OKC should advance and end Los Angeles' playoff run at the second round.

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