What a difference a few days make . Two weeks ago the Lakers were riding high on the strength of a 17-1 run after the All-Star break and were challenging the Spurs and Bulls for the best record in the NBA. Then they lost five in a row and were lucky to beat a Spurs team that sat out most of its starters, and a very ordinary team Kings team playing its final game in Sacramento. Had they lost either of those games , the Lakers would have finished third in the West and lost home court advantage as early as the second round . As it is, by finishing second to the Spurs in the West , they have a favorable match-up against the Hornets in the first round and ( most likely ) the Mavericks in the second.
The Lakeshow has hardly been convincing and it is a surprise to see the experts so gung-ho about a three-peat. All six NBA experts on Yahoo Sports picked the Lakers to make the finals and four of them picked the Lakers to win it all . Two picked them to win over the Bulls and the other two over the Celtics.Of the two remaining prognosticators , one picked the Bulls over the Lakers and the other said the Heat would triumph over Kobe & Co.
I’m happy to see the experts picking the Lakers as favorites to win it all but I am not so sanguine . The Lakers looked horrible in their five losses and even in their two season ending wins . There was no on-court chemistry , Kobe shot too much and they were unable to defend double digit second half leads. Compounding the Lakers problems , Andrew Bynum suffered a bone-bruise in the game against the Spurs and will have to babied to some extent in the early playoff games , Matt Barnes is nursing a knee injury and Steve Blake is suffering from chicken-pox. How can I be optimistic about their chances ?
In order for the Lakers to win , Bynum will have to regain his dominant form , Artest will have to show his prowess as a defensive stopper , Kobe has to remember to involve his team mates and Barnes and Blake will have to make important contributions , both defensively and as three-point threats. It seems a tall order . I suppose the experts figure that the Lakers will regain their intensity in the playoffs and that Kobe will do whatever it takes to win . I hope they are right .
A month ago , I’d written in one of my earlier posts that I saw the Thunder and Nuggets as the Lakers main rivals in the West, not the Spurs and the Mavericks . I seem to have got that right as all the six experts pick the Thunder to beat the Spurs and make the Western Conference finals before losing to the Lakers. It’s a good thing( for the Lakers ) that the Thunder and Nuggets will be battling it out in the first round and that the Lakers will not face the Thunder until the conference finals , assuming they both make it that far.
I’m also surprised to see the experts rating the Celtics chances so highly. On their day , the Big Three are superb but they have not been that consistent lately . KG looks a little tired , Ray Allen had lost his shooting touch for a while and Rondo seemed to have reverted to his earlier ways of trying to do too much and losing the ball. Besides , the center position is a question mark with Shaq’s and Kristic’s injuries and the ineffectiveness of Jermaine O’Neal. They will be hard put to get past the Heat especially now that they don’t have home court advantage . My antipathy for the Heat is well known so I do hope the Celtics , as the lesser of two evils , pull off an upset and LBJ packing .
I would like to see the Bulls win the East. They have no superstars except for Derrick Rose and are a real team . They have great team defense and it is a wonder to me that Noah at a spindly 6′-10″ is able to hold his own against taller , bigger centers. It is an intelligently put together team and Tom Thibodeau has done a super job coaching the Bulls and getting them to buy into his defensive mindset. If the Lakers can’t pull it off , I hope the Bulls do.