Archive for the ‘NBA’ category

Lakers Re-sign Shannon Brown

July 8, 2009

Now that free agents can officially sign with teams, the Lakers made a wise move in re-signing  guard Shannon Brown to a two-year, $4.2 million deal.  The second year of the deal is a player option.  Plain and simple, this was a signing that needed to be done. 

Brown provided solid contributions off the bench during the Lakers run to the NBA title this past season.  The first play that comes to my mind was the dunk over Denver’s Chris Andersen.  That play turned the momentum of the series and eventually led to the Lakers eliminating the Nuggets from the Western Conference Finals in six games. 

Brown is still  young and will only be turning 24 this November.  He has shown the ability to play both guard positions and his solid defensive play gives Los Angeles another option off the bench and provides them with insurance in case they have to move Jordan Farmar for any reason. 

 I have read various reports indicating that Farmar could be added to any deal if the Lakers become aggressive in wanting to move the bad contracts of Adam Morrison, Sasha Vujacic or Luke Walton.  In addition, there have been reports indicating that Farmar doesn’t like the triangle offense and that the Lakers are less than pleased with his overall development as their point guard of the future.

Most importantly the signing of Brown brings back another important piece of last year’s championship run and provides continuity for the Lakers as they they begin defense of their title next season.

Lakers Make Right Move In Going With Artest

July 3, 2009

No sooner than I posted up my latest entry Thursday that the news came down that Ron Artest would be coming to Los Angeles and Trevor Ariza would be heading to Houston.  So much for my opinion that Ariza should be the Lakers top off season priority. (For the record, I still feel he should have been if the decision came down to whether to resign him or Odom.)   

For many years I have been a fan of what Artest has been able to accomplish while operating inside the lines of an NBA court.  Lets not confuse this with what Artest has done in his personal life or in the stands while punching Detroit fans.  I am a fan of the Artest that has the ability to shut down your best offensive player while being one of his teams top scorers. 

For several years I have been excited at the idea of Artest in a Lakers uniform.  Every time I would hear a rumor stating that the Lakers were in talks to acquire him, I would become excited like a child on a sugar high in anticipation of the thought of it being true. 

When the rumors became a reality yesterday, how did I react?  Like the child that had come down off that sugar high.  I was sad and a little down because the writing was on the wall that Ariza would not be coming back to the purple and gold next year.  I had finally gotten my wish but was not pleased at the price that was paid to make it happen.  As a fan of the purple and gold, that was me reacting with my heart and not my head. 

I was sad that one of the most important pieces on this years championship run would not have the opportunity to come back and defend the title.  I was always a fan of number three since he arrived via trade a year and half ago.  I loved his athleticism, his defensive play and the fact that he was selfless and willing to play his role and leave the spotlight to Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. 

When I started to think with my head I realized that as much as I love Ariza and will miss him in southern California next season, the Lakers got better by acquiring Artest.  No matter how you slice it, he is the better player of the two.  Artest is better offensively, a former defensive player of the year and a perennial NBA All Defensive First or Second Team member.  He is one of the few talents in the league that is capable of shutting down your best offensive weapon while putting up 20 points or more on any given night.  Most importantly he gives the Lakers a toughness and grit that they have not had since early this decade when guys like Rick Fox, Horace Grant and Robert Horry fulfilled those roles. 

Despite winning a championship this year, I thought that was something the Lakers lacked.  Historically many of the championship teams have had a player that will figuratively “punch you in the mouth” and use tough, physical play to take you out of your game.  Players that come to mind who fulfilled that role on championship teams are Danny Ainge, Kurt Rambis, Dennis Rodman and Bruce Bowen.  When teams try to intimidate the Lakers, they now have a “patriot missile” to answer the physical “scud missile” of the other team. 

Its obvious that an “arms race” was taking place around the league.  The Spurs picked up Richard Jefferson, the Cavs landed Shaquille O’Neal, Orlando traded for Vince Carter.  The Lakers could not just sit back and rest on their laurels of what they accomplished this year.  Everyone else around them was trying to get better and they knew they must do the same. 

Are there risks with Artest that don’t come with Ariza?  Without a doubt.  Artest is known to make selfish plays by taking shots out of the flow of the offense, not to mention that he is capable of going off the deep end mentally.  However, I think there will be enough strong minds on the Lakers to keep him in line.  

The accomplishments of Phil Jackson as a head coach and Bryant and Derek Fisher as players speaks for itself.  Those guys command respect and if Artest is as serious about winning a ring as he claims to be he will stay right mentally and fulfill his role.  Artest is only making $6 million per season for the next three years, which by NBA standards is cheap for a player of his caliber.  So if he doesn’t fall into place, he should be easy to move.    

The Lakers realize that their championship window only has about three more years left in it.  Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak knows that his window will only last for as long as Bryant is at his peak.  Thursday’s move clearly signifies that the Lakers are going for broke to maximize the potential of this window.

Thank you Trevor Ariza for your role in bringing championship number 15 to the Lakers franchise.  I think I can speak for all Lakers fans in saying that you’ll be missed.  On that note, everyone’s favorite NBA soap opera, “As The Laker Turns” just got a whole lot more interesting.  See how next seasons drama unfolds starting in November.

Why Ariza Should Be Lakers Top Offseason Priority

July 2, 2009

It is often said in sports that the only thing harder than winning a championship is defending it.  The Lakers and their front office find themselves currently in that position. 

After resigning Josh Powell and DJ Mbenga, Los Angeles has committed $75.9 million to the 10 players that they currently have with guaranteed contracts for next season.  While the salary cap has not yet been established for the 2009-2010 season, according to NBA writer Eric Pincus at Hoopsworld.com teams are operating as if the cap is projected to be set at $56 million. 

While I admit that I am far from being a salary cap expert, it only takes simple math to know that the Lakers are significantly over the cap based on the committed salaries they already have.  The NBA has a luxury tax penalty that they assess to teams who go over the salary cap number.  Teams are penalized one dollar for every dollar they exceed that number.  Another important piece of information to know is that the league requires a minimum of 13 players on each roster.  Regardless of how you spin it, the Lakers will be paying a substantial tax to fill their roster next season. 

This brings me to their free agent situation.  As of this writing, three important pieces from last years championship are missing from next years roster, forwards Lamar Odom and Trevor Ariza along with guard Shannon Brown.  I’m sure the Lakers would love to find a way that makes sense economically to sign all three, especially Odom and Ariza.

Based on what I have seen from him on the court since Mitch Kupchak “gun and ski masked” him out of Orlando back in November 2007, Ariza should be the Lakers top free agent priority this off season.  While Odom is the better all around player and the better player statistically, he is also six years older than the quicker and more athletic small forward in Ariza. 

Odom has shown flashes of brilliance at times.  Some that come to mind were his performances against Denver in the playoffs and against Cleveland in which they handed the Cavaliers their first regular season home defeat.  But the problem with Odom is just that, he only shows you “flashes”.  After 10 years in the league, we have seen enough of him to know what we are going to get, which is a player that has all the talent in the world but overall is inconsistent on a nightly basis.

Ariza brings a more consistent effort from game to game.  He dramatically improved his outside shooting and has shown that he is more than capable of providing outstanding defense on the perimeter.  Besides Kobe Bryant, the Lakers don’t have a wing man with that kind of ability.  The Lakers gained athleticism and became better defensively as a team when Ariza became the starting small forward.  To be without him in the starting line up would be a huge loss for the team. 

Los Angeles already has depth on their roster at the power forward and center positions with Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum along with their backups in Powell and Mbenga.  If Ariza leaves that puts Luke Walton back into the starting line up and his back up would be Adam Morrison.  The small forward position would instantly go from an area of strength to weakness.  Even though Ariza would be getting a pay raise of at least double what he was making last year, it’s still cheaper than the pay cut Odom is willing to take to return. 

In a perfect world, it would be great if everyone from last year was able to come back and defend the crown but unless Kupchak can find someone to take the contracts of Sasha Vujacic, Morrison or Walton off his hands, there is no way that’s going to happen.  Even if one of the three I mentioned were moved, it would still be a tough challenge.  No matter how you cut it, Dr. Buss is going to be paying a huge chunk of change to fill the Lakers roster.  Might as well have last years starting five together when you do.

Lakers Make Magic Disappear To Win NBA Title

June 15, 2009

To steal from the immortal Chick Hearn, “This season’s in the refrigerator.  The lights are out, the eggs are coolin’, the butters getting hard and the jello’s jigglin’.  For the 15th time in franchise history, the Los Angeles Lakers are NBA champions!” 

With a 99-86 victory Sunday night, the Lakers road back to the top ended by dispatching the Orlando Magic in five games to become the 2009 NBA Champions.  Kobe Bryant was named Finals MVP after averaging 32.4 points, 7.4 assists, 5.6 rebounds, 1.4 blocks and 1.4 steals per game in the Finals on his way to winning the fourth championship of his career. 

For Bryant and the Lakers it was a long road back to the top of the NBA mountain.  A seven year journey to be exact.  The travel included Bryant dealing with rape allegations, a Finals loss to the underdog Detroit Pistons in 2004 that was followed by the trading of Shaquille O’Neal to Miami and Phil Jackson stepping down as head coach, thus ending a dynasty. 

The low point was 2005 when the Lakers missed the playoffs.  Although Jackson returned as coach after a one year sabbatical, 2006 and 2007 both ended in first round playoff defeats to the Phoenix Suns which resulted in Bryant publicly requesting a trade from the team. 

Last year things began to turn around for the Lakers as they made a return trip to the NBA Finals before being eliminated with an exclamation point at the hands of the Boston Celtics by 39 points in Game Six.  But it was that painful lesson that gave the Lakers the motivation and focus to return to the Finals but get different results. 

That result was the Lakers winning the fifteenth championship in their storied history.  Phil Jackson moved into a class by himself winning his tenth title as a coach passing Red Auerbach.  For Kobe Bryant, he put to rest the biggest criticism of his career.  No longer will he have to hear that he couldn’t win a title without O’Neal.

Credit must also be given to Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak for having the patience to stick with his plan despite the pressure from both Kobe Bryant and Laker fans alike.  The team would not have reached this moment without the draft picks and trades that he was able to make.  Luke Walton, Sasha Vujacic, Andrew Bynum and Jordan Farmar all made contributions during the season.  All were draft picks made by Kupchak. 

Two major pieces to this years championship puzzle were made via trade under Kupchak when he outright “gun and ski masked” Pau Gasol and Trevor Ariza from Memphis and Orlando respectively.  The talent that he received in exchange for what he gave up for those players was downright criminal.  Do any Laker fans even miss Brian Cook, Maurice Evans and Kwame Brown?

Laker fans will rejoice in the glory of another title and many will head to downtown Los Angeles Wednesday to see the parade featuring their championship heroes.  The legions of purple and gold followers will have lots to celebrate over the next few days.    Enjoy it while you can because if the last seven years have taught us anything, it’s that these championships fade into the rear view mirror just as fast as they appear on the horizon.  This Laker fan will milk the next couple of days for all they’re worth.

Fisher King Reigns Supreme In Game Four

June 12, 2009

If you didn’t watch the game and only took a look at the box score, nothing about Derek Fisher’s stat line jumps out at you.  In 42 minutes he finished with 12 points, one assist, four rebounds,  and two steals.  He shot just 5-for-11 including only 2-for-7 from the three point line. 

If you did watch the game and then looked at the stat sheet, one number will jump out at you, the number two, as in two three pointers made.  Fisher missed his first five three point attempts from behind the arc but as the good veterans do, he did not let it affect him mentally. 

He did not let it affect his confidence when he made the two biggest three pointers in his life.  One tied the game to eventually send it into overtime.  The second came in overtime and essentially won the game for the Lakers 99-91 to give them a 3-1 series lead.  With those two shots, Derek Fisher cemented his status as a Laker legend.

On the other side, the Orlando Magic will remember that they had a five point lead with less than a minute left in the game.  With eleven seconds left to play, the Magic maintained a three point lead and their superstar center Dwight Howard stepped to the free throw line needing to make just one of two attempts to make it a two possession game and essentially seal the deal. 

Unfortunately for Magic fans, the ghost of Nick Anderson reared his ugly head as Howard missed both free throws, giving the Lakers life, which was all their veteran laden team would need.  Just like the Laker fans will remember the number two for what Fisher did, Magic fans will remember that same number for what Howard did not.

In fairness to Howard, it was not all his fault.  Some other things that I will remember are Hedo Turkoglu missing three of four free throws in two trips to the line late in the fourth quarter.  I will also remember Orlando point guard Jameer Nelson having a mental breakdown by positioning himself defensively inside the three point line.  That mistake allowed Fisher to step up in rhythm and make the first of two shots that will go down in Laker lore. 

History shows that essentially this series is over.  No team has ever rebounded from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals.  For the Magic, they will never see a better opportunity than the one they saw Thursday night.  Kobe Bryant had another poor shooting performance hitting on just 11-of-31 shots finishing with 32 points, 7 rebounds and 8 assists. 

Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom were all in foul trouble for much of the night.  The three were on the bench at the same time during a second quarter that saw Orlando take a 12 point lead at halftime.  When was the last time that you saw both DJ Mbenga and Josh Powell on the court at the same time playing crucial minutes?  Right around never.

Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy in the post-game press conference said that he didn’t think that experience had anything to do with what happened in Game Four.  I disagree.  Starting the second half, Orlando had all the momentum with a lead and a crazy crowd that was giving them life. 

At this point, experience played a big part in what occurred in the second half.  The Lakers opened the third quarter on a 18-5 run over the first six minutes to take a one point lead.  Trevor Ariza led the attack by scoring eleven points in that span and finished with 13 points in the third quarter.  The Lakers would outscore the Magic 30-14 in the third quarter turning a 12 point halftime deficit into a four point lead through three. 

Experience contributed to what happened down the stretch in the fourth quarter.  The Lakers were calm, cool, collected and it showed in their execution.  Orlando looked rattled contributing to their inability to take care of the ball and hit shots from the free throw line.  The Magic shot just 59.5 percent as a team from the charity stripe and turned the ball over 17 times. 

The only questions that remain now are, “Can the Magic rebound mentally from blowing a golden opportunity to even things up and send the series back to Los Angeles?” or “Do the Lakers smell blood in the water and go in for the kill?”  Sunday night we’ll have our answer.

Orlando Magic: Magical Shooting In Game Three Victory

June 9, 2009

You knew it was only a matter of time in this series before the Orlando Magic would play their best game. From the opening tip, they hit shot after shot after shot. 

In the first half, the Magic set a record for the best shooting percentage in any half of an NBA Finals game, shooting 75 percent. They set another record for a single game by finishing with a shooting percentage of 62.5 percent on their way to a 108-104 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers. 

No Orlando starter hit less than 50 percent of their shooting attempts. Mickael Pietrus got into the act, coming off the bench to shoot 7-for-11 and finish with 18 points. 

The Magic have been able to get back into the series due to excellent production from the aforementioned Pietrus, along with point guard Rafer Alston, who finished with 20 points on the night. For the first time all series, the Magic were finally able to get productive play from their guards. 

From field goal percentage, to guard play, to taking care of the ball, everything went Orlando’s way on the stat sheet, and yet they still only beat the Lakers by four points. 

Los Angeles was in this game until the very end. Kobe Bryant missed a crucial free throw down the stretch and committed a costly turnover with the game still in reach. Bryant finished with 31 points and eight assists but went three-for-14 from the field after making eight of his first eleven shots. Pau Gasol scored 23 points but only grabbed three rebounds.

Another missing ingredient from tonight’s Laker box score was the production of Lamar Odom. Odom finished with just 11 points and two rebounds. Odom seemed to be out of the rhythm of the game in the first three quarters because of foul trouble. In the fourth quarter he finally started to play aggressively by driving the ball to the basket and picking up points. 

Trevor Ariza, who has shot close to 50 percent for the playoffs from the three point line, had an off night. Ariza connected on just two of his seven attempts from behind the arc. 

Tonight was a big win for Orlando, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. They had to pull out tonight’s game to have any shot of beating the Lakers in this series. They fed off the energy of the home crowd and played their best game against Los Angeles.

Orlando now has one game under their belt, and most importantly, the confidence that they can win games in this series. This could be the spring board to great things for them in the remaining games of the series, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if they even things up on Thursday night.

That being said, the Lakers are a veteran group that has been to the Finals before and Bryant and Fisher have each been on three championship teams in their careers. They know that defensively they did not bring anything close to their best effort. 

I look for Phil Jackson to make the necessary adjustments, and for the Lakers to have confidence in the fact that Orlando played at their best and still only beat them by four points. Like Orlando, the Lakers have showed an ability of their own to come back in the next game from sub par efforts. 

With Game Three turning out the way it did, both teams have a lot to build on for Thursday night. Will the Magic even up the series? Will the Lakers be one game away from winning a 15th championship? We’ll all find out a little less than 48 hours from now.

Lakers Survive Magic To Take 2-0 Lead In Finals

June 8, 2009

As expected, the Orlando Magic bounced back and played much better in Game Two and had their chances to steal a game in Los Angeles before heading back to their home court for the next three games.  Anybody who has watched them in these playoffs knows that they always give a better effort following a humbling defeat.

Had Courtney Lee been able to convert the last second alley oop attempt things would be a lot different this morning.  The play was well drawn up, the inbounds pass was where it needed to be and Lee made the proper cut to the basket but when you get down to it, a miss is still a miss.

In Game One, the Magic’s starting front court of Dwight Howard, Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu combined for just 33 points on 6-for-27 shooting.  That was arguably the biggest factor in their 25 point loss to open the series.

Things turned around for Orlando’s starting front court in Game Two as Lewis led all scorers with 34 points to go along with eleven rebounds and seven assists while Turkoglu added 22 points and Howard finished with 17 points and 16 rebounds.  The three combined to shoot 25-for-48 on the night.  Lewis was on fire and really took charge for the Magic on the offensive end.  In the second quarter, Lewis scored 18 of Orlando’s 20 points to keep them in the game, only trailing by five at the break. 

The production of the Magic front court is the biggest reason that the Lakers needed overtime to pull out a 101-96 overtime victory in Game Two as opposed to a 25 point blowout victory in Game One. 

In the third quarter I thought Orlando did a great job of using Howard as a decoy.  He was effectively able to get the ball deep in the post and draw a double team leaving his three point shooters open and unlike the previous game, the Magic were making those shots.  I look for them to do more of that in Game Three. 

All of the numbers by Orlando should have added up to a victory and an even series after two games but what hurt the Magic the most was their ineffective ball handling.  In the end, the Magic committed 20 turnovers and that was the biggest reason that they lost this game.  The Lakers were able to make big plays on the defensive end and force the Magic in to making mistakes. 

As for the Lakers, they were able to get effective play from their three main offensive weapons.  Kobe Bryant scored 29 points on 10-for-22 shooting and for the second straight game finished with eight assists.  Pau Gasol finished with 24 points and 10 rebounds and Lamar Odom played big once again finishing with 19 points and eight rebounds off the bench. 

Los Angeles showed poise in the extra period while forcing Orlando to make mistakes that eventually cost them.  The Lakers knew that they blew a golden opportunity to win the game in regulation when Bryant was blocked from behind by Turkoglu while driving towards the basket.  Replays showed that the Lakers had three open men on the floor that would have had a much better look at the basket.

Despite the loss, I think Orlando gained confidence from the close game and as a team they have yet to play their best game.  I look for them to be firing on all cylinders come Game Three on Tuesday night and get their first Finals victory in franchise history.

Lakers Have All The Magic in Game 1

June 5, 2009

Kobe Bryant has a remarkable list of accomplishments that have spanned his 13 year career that includes three championships, one MVP and a game in which he topped the 80 point mark.  After leading the Lakers to a 100-75 win in Game One of the Finals he added another achievement to the list. 

Bryant joined rare company with the following stat line: 40 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists.  Only three other players have recorded numbers like that on the NBA’s highest stage:  Jerry West, Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal. 

Tonight’s game was won in the second and third quarters with the Lakers taking complete control of the game outscoring Orlando 60-34.  Bryant poured in 30 points during that time span.  The game was still close with about eight minutes to go in the third quarter as the Magic trailed 59-50.  That was as close Orlando would get as the Lakers closed out the third quarter on a 23-8 run with Bryant scoring 12 points in that span.

When you look at the stat sheet, it’s easy to see how Orlando got blown out in their first Finals game in 14 years.  The Magic’s starting front court of Dwight Howard, Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis combined for just 33 points on 6-of-27 shooting.  The play of these three is the reason that Orlando has gotten this far and when they have nights like this, it’s tough for them to beat anybody. 

 Howard had a solid game as far as rebounds go, pulling down 15, but he scored only 12 points on just 1-for-6 shooting with 10 of those points coming from the charity stripe.  That stat line is simply unacceptable if the Magic want to have a chance in this series.

In addition to the play of Howard, Orlando’s three point shooting has been a key to their success this postseason.  Last night they shot just 39.8 percent as a team from behind the arc making only eight of their 23 attempts.  While that is not a horrible number, it certainly does not help when you combine it with the fact that Howard had an off night in the paint. 

The stat that jumps out even more is that Orlando shot just 29.9 percent from the field as a team.  It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that shooting a higher percentage from the three point line than from the entire field is not a recipe for success.

The Lakers biggest X factor, Lamar Odom continued his strong play posting another double-double finishing with 11 points and 14 rebounds in 32 minutes off the bench.  His play is arguably the biggest factor to success for the Lakers.  When Odom is at the top of his game, he keeps the opponents from having any kind of break when he enters the contest to replace Andrew Bynum in the line up.  No bench player on either team has the impact that Odom does. 

In Game One, Odom’s biggest impact was on the play of Orlando’s power forward Rashard Lewis.  Lewis was held to just eight points after shooting just 2-for-10 from the field.  Between Gasol and Odom, Lewis had a tough time on the offensive end while defensively he never received a break having to guard two players that are very capable offensively. 

While the Lakers played great in Game One, I believe this series is still far from over.  I chalk up a lot of what happened in game one to Orlando being caught up in the bright lights of making it to the Finals.  They looked like a team that had not been there whereas the Lakers showed the poise of a veteran team.  Orlando had repeated open looks and simply did not execute.   

I also look for Jameer Nelson to get better as the series progresses.  His quickness and shooting ability was tough for the Lakers to contend with during the regular season.  Nelson displayed some of that quickness driving the basketball and getting three assists during his first three minutes of play.  If he can get a consistent shot going he will provide big challenges defensively for the Lakers guards.

Does Orlando still have the Magic that has gotten them to this point or will the Lakers once again make it disappear on their way to another victory?  We’ll find out Sunday night.

NBA Finals Preview

June 4, 2009

Finally, the moment is here.  Seven months after the season began, we are down to the final two teams.  Representing the west, the Los Angeles Lakers.  From the east, the Orlando Magic. 

The Lakers were favored by money to make it back to the Finals after losing in last years Finals to the Boston Celtics.  The Magic played the underdog role on their way to this point having beaten the Celtics and Cavaliers to get here.  Both of those teams finished with better records than Orlando in the regular season.

Orlando has gotten here led by the play of Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard along with some deadly three point shooting from Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu.

The Lakers are led by former MVP and three time NBA champion Kobe Bryant, the solid play of All-Star Pau Gasol and the surprising three point shooting accuracy of forward Trevor Ariza.

I look for Orlando to run the ball inside through Howard.  Lakers head caoch Phil Jackson has already said that he would prefer not to leave Orlando’s three point shooters alone in favor of double teaming Howard.  This will force Bynum to have to step up his game on the defensive end by guarding Howard one on one. 

If Bynum can stay out of foul trouble, the Lakers will have taken away a big part of Orlando’s offensive game plan.  If Bynum gets into early foul trouble, the Lakers will move the less physical Gasol over to center to guard Howard.  With the energy that Gasol will have to use on the defensive end, it likely will take away from his production on the offensive end.

Look for the Lakers to exploit their advantage at the shooting guard position with Kobe Bryant as neither Mickael Pietrus nor Courtney Lee should be able to effectively guard him.  Lebron James averaged over 38 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists against Orlando.  That tells me that Kobe should be able to have his way offensively.  James was able to do his damage with no one on his supporting cast that could draw defenses.  Bryant simply has more weapons with which to work.    

I also look for Bryant to follow the blue print that James laid out in the previous round and take the ball right at the basket, looking to draw contact and get Howard into foul trouble.  While Orlando’s back up center Marcin Gortat is a very capable player, he is not in the class of Howard and the Lakers would be at a tremendous advantage.

Orlando did beat the Lakers twice in their only two regular season match ups.  I believe that does count for something and that will give the Magic a tremendous boost of confidence heading into this series.  However, these two teams played their last game in February.  Certain factors have changed since then.

A big key in both Orlando victories was the play of point guard Jameer Nelson.  Nelson caused the Lakers problems with his quickness and outside shooting scoring a combined 55 points against the Lakers in the two games. 

 On February 19, he suffered what was at the time considered a season ending surgery.  According to the latest reports, he will be activated in the series but it is undetermined how many minutes that he will play.  Nelson not being 100 percent is a huge loss for Orlando.

For the Lakers, small forward Trevor Ariza has become a legitimate threat on the offensive end hitting over 55 percent of his shots including an outstanding 50 percent of his shots from behind the three point line. 

The Lakers already had three scorers in Bryant, Gasol, and Odom before these playoffs were underway.  Ariza giving them a fourth scorer is huge and makes them even tougher to guard on the defensive end.  Most importantly, it keeps defenses honest against Bryant and makes it easier for him to work.

The single biggest factor for the Lakers will be the play of Lamar Odom.  He will be coming off the bench but will be playing starters minutes.  If he plays the way he did in Games 5 and 6 of the Western Conference Finals, there is no doubt that the Lakers will be the ones holding up the trophy.  He is a better defensive match up against Lewis and if Odom gets things going offensively he should be able to use his size to his advantage.  If Odom allows Lewis to be an effective three point shooter and fails to take advantage of him on the defensive end, the Lakers will be in trouble. 

Orlando is a very good team and will provide a great challenge to the Lakers.  When I look at the two teams I see one that is happy to be here in Orlando while Los Angeles looks like they’re on a mission to redeem themselves from last years loss. 

 Bryant looks as focused as any competitor as I have ever seen.  He knows that a fourth ring would cement his legacy and would finally get the monkey off his back of not being the leader on a championship team.  When he is this focused and determined, it’s hard to pick against him.

My prediction:  Lakers in six

LeBron James Not “King” Quite Yet

June 1, 2009
Before LeBron James ever set foot on an NBA court he was already considered royalty by fans and media alike having been given the nickname King.  It is undisputed that James has had lots of success since coming into the league out of high school in 2003.  He has clearly cemented himself as a person who has a chance to be in the discussion of all-time greats before his story is written.  Despite all that he has accomplished in six years, he has yet to reach the status of “King” as an NBA player. 

If you want to talk NBA royalty, players such as Michael Jordan, Bill Russell and Magic Johnson are just a few who come to mind.  These men are legends in the league with all of them having been winners on the court with their play and winners in the locker room with their teammates by making them better.  As leaders all of them were the first to stand up and take both the praise and the criticism whether it was warranted or not.  As the kings of their respective teams, they knew the responsibilities that went with the position.  A king takes both the glory and the criticism.  LeBron James failed to do the latter after his team was eliminated in the Eastern Conference Finals by Orlando.

James is the undisputed leader of the Cavaliers and without him they don’t even come close to reaching the level of success that they experienced this year.  All year long he was the first person the media came to when they were on their way to winning 66 games in the regular season and you knew he would be the first person they came to when the Cavs came up short in the playoffs. 

 When it came time to answer questions from the media this past Saturday night, James was nowhere to be found in the press conference area.  He was instead hiding on the team bus, leaving his team high and dry.  To use an analogy, James failure to face the blame showed that he ranks right around “Prince” on the royal totem pole. 

Let this serve as a reminder that no matter how much success a 24 year old may have experienced on the court at an early age and no matter how much he may leave us in awe with his skills on a game in and game out basis, we as fans and media shouldn’t be so quick to give a young man such a presitigious title.  Especially one that has yet to be “King” at the end of any given season.