It isn’t easy being a Laker fan . In the beginning of the season , I hadn’t been impressed with their solid start because it was mostly at the expense of sub-500 teams. My fears proved well -founded when they stumbled through the first half of the season and I’d just about written of any hope of a three-peat. Their play after the All-Star Break revived my hopes once again as they defeated some top teams while compiling a 11-1 record prior to last night’s Suns game . That game should have been a cakewalk since the Suns are a team in transition , barely clinging to the tenth spot in the Western Conference. What actually happened was that the Lakers had to pull out all the stops to outlast the Suns in triple-OT.
Last night’s game encapsulated all that is good and bad about the Lakers, what keeps their fans on tenterhooks.After trading baskets early with the Suns , the Lakers built up a 10 point lead at half time and expanded it to 21 in the third quarter , only to allow the Suns to creep back in . With under two minutes to go , they were leading 110-101 and I thought the nine-point lead was safe .I should have known better as LA took some bad shots , threw away the ball and the Suns hit a couple of three pointers to tie the game. The Lakers did win in triple overtime but their fans , including me , alternately cheering and cursing as they pulled it out .
Kobe did hit the game clincher last night and his stat line last night was impressive ( 42 points , 12 rebounds , 9 assists ) but he also tries to do too much particularly in the closing stages of games .As for Derek Fisher , I don’t understand why Phil Jackson leaves him in at crunch time . He is a liability and last night’s stat line proves it . He did have 4 steals but, in 46 minutes, he shot 0 for 7 and had only three assists . At this point in the season , I’d thought that Steve Blake would have been inserted into the starting rotation and Fish relegated to the bench but apparently that’s not going to happen this year. Gasol , Odom and Artest played well ( except for Odom’s ill-advised foul on Channing Frye that sent the game to double OT) . Overall, I wish Artest would contribute a little more offensively though yesterday he was fine particularly in OT when he took and made some important shots .One bright spot was the return of Matt Barnes to the line-up . He’s still playing himself into shape but he plays hard and he’s already contributing off the bench. As for Andrew Bynum , I’m still fuming at the boneheaded foul that earned him a two game suspension . There’s no denying that he is a crucial part of the Laker line-up and that they are a much better team when he’s clogging the middle . It’s no coincidence that the only two games since the All Star break in which Laker opponents scored over 100 points were the two games when he wasn’t playing . I do hope he’s learned that he’s learned his lesson and stays focused and healthy for the rest of the season and the playoffs.
Speaking of the playoffs , I think the Lakers main threats in the Western Conference will be the Nuggets and the Thunder , not the Spurs and the Mavericks . I felt that way even before the injury to Tim Duncan which , by the way , I don’t think will affect the Spurs providing he returns at full strength for the playoffs. The Spurs have too big a lead and should finish the season still in first place ,with home court advantage throughout the playoffs. It’s just that , good as the Spurs are, I think Denver and OKC have been scary good lately . I watched the Thunder beat the Heat in Miami and was most impressed. Durant was unstoppable and the Thunder played great team defense in holding Miami’s Big Three to a combined 5 for 21 in the second half. Commentators give Kendrick Perkins a lot of credit for the improved defense but it’s certainly nothing he’s done on court as he’s still rounding into shape . As for the Nuggets , they’ve improved immeasurably since the Carmelo trade . Who’d have thunk it ? !! Without Carmelo hogging the ball , the shots are being distributed more equitably and everyone is happier for it . With their deep bench and with George Karl calling the shots , they seem to me to be a real threat unlike the Mavericks who , no matter what they do in the regular season, can be relied on to collapse in the playoffs.
Contrary to the popular wisdom , I think it will be the Bulls and the Heat who will be duking it out in the Eastern Conference Finals . Most people pick the Celtics who have been playing well and looked most impressive beating the Knicks last night . However , they seem to have difficulty at the offensive end against the better defensive teams and Rondo’s play has been spotty of late . The Bulls , on the other hand , have been magnificent, blowing out their opponents by 30 and 40 points . I’d known they’d be good but I never expected them to be this good . They’ve really bought into new coach Tom Thibodeau’s defensive mindset and Derrick Rose deserves to be the MVP . I’m very impressed also with the play of Joakim Noah , who gets the job done even though he doesn’t seem to have the physical attributes necessary to play the center position . The Heat too have gotten over their earlier stumbles and are playing good ball. They figure to be tougher defensively once Udonis Haslem rejoins the line-up at the end of the month .
It should be interesting .