January 2008 - Posts
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban recently asked in his blog:
Is this the best NBA season ever? I haven't done the research to find out when the last time 7 games
separated one conference's top 10 teams, all with a winning record and
playing good basketball this late in the season. It hasn't happened in
the 8 years I have owned the Mavs. This year is shaping up to be
a crazy one. A 5 or 6 game losing streak and any of the 4 teams who
have had the best record in the west over the past month could find
themselves out of the playoffs.
It's silly to try to apply absolutes like "best" or "worst" to any season, since the attributes that define the quality of a season differ from fan to fan. Some fans just want to see a high caliber of play all around, and for those, this is indeed a great NBA season. Other fans are a bit more selfish, and define the greatness of a season based on how their team is performing. While Hornets fans would surely agree that this is the BEST SEASON EVER, Miami Heat fans might disagree. And for teams with a storied history, it's hard to slap the label "GREAT" on a season when you compare it with past glory. Sure, the Celtics are playing great and have an exciting roster, but to define this season as "the best ever" would diminish the unstoppable 1986 Celtics with Bird, McHale, Parish, Walton, Ainge, and others coming together to play lights out ball. Point being, it's easier for the owner of the Dallas Mavericks to pontificate about "best ever," but for a Laker GM or Celtics coach or Knicks owner or Bulls VP to do the same would be heresy.
Hoop purists who have no proclivity for one team over another must be enjoying this season as the level of play is exception in many spots around the League. There have been and will always be some level of disparity in any league with so many teams, but the number of top tier teams is at an all time high. As Mark noted, there are 10 Western Conference teams with near-identical records. And the Eastern Conference has Boston and Cleveland and Detroit playing at a high level.
So, Mark, this is shaping up to be a top-notch season, but I think it's a bit premature to label it the best ever. But we appreciate your enthusiasm.
The Lakers have had some personnel health issues as of late, especially in their front court. After losing Andrew Bynum and Trevor Ariza for 8 weeks, forward Luke Walton came out of Tuesday's game against the Knicks with a hip injury. Granted, he's day-to-day, but it still hurts to have one less player. I keep telling myself that it's better that these injuries happen now rather than in March or April. The good news is that the Lakers beat the woeful Knicks, 120-109, although the game was close until about midway through the 4th quarter.
Luke's a lot of fun to watch. He's not the quickest or biggest or strongest player, but his basketball IQ is quite high. Granted, he made a boneheaded play in Sunday's loss to the Cavs, passing off to Kobe instead of taking the last second 3, resulting in the clock expiring... But still, when I see him out there I don't worry that he's going to fumble the ball or turn it over at an inopportune time or just make some poor decision, like I did when Smush Parker was running the show last year.
The Lakers have a tough road game against the hot and seasoned Detroit Pistons tomorrow night. Go Lakers!
Over on ESPN.com, David Schoenfield has written an article chronicling the 18 greatest teams that choked. In short, what teams that had great written all over, were destined to win it all, but then choked when it was showtime. The 2007 Dallas Mavericks are ranked #6, and probably rightfully so.
Reading David's article got me thinking on a slightly related vein: what teams had great written all over them, but still couldn't close the deal. Not that they necessarily choked, but that they just couldn't close the sale, so to speak. Two teams that immediately sprung to mind were the 1993 Phoenix Suns and the 1998 Utah Jazz.
In 1993 the Suns finished the regular season at 62-20 compared to the Bulls record of 57-25. Even the New York Knicks had a better record than the Bulls (60-22), and they were in the same conference. And don't forget - Sir Charles was the League MVP that year. Yet the Bulls bested the Suns in 6 games in the Finals, denying the Suns and Charles Barkley a championship. And since 1993, neither Sir Charles for the Phoenix Suns organization has been back to the Finals.
In 1998, the Utah Jazz and Bulls shared the best regular season record at 62-20 (although the Jazz had the better record against the Bulls and therefore enjoyed home court advantage in the Finals). The Jazz had a formidable squad with Stockton and Malone, and had reached the Finals the previous year as well. And the Bulls were graying. Jordan's magic was fading, Pippen was having migraines, and Rodman was sinking further into the abyss of lunacy. They went seven games in the ECF against a very deep and talented Pacers team, while the Jazz breezed through the playoffs. And yet the Bulls won, dashing the hopes of the Utah faithful in back to back years. And since those two crushing defeats, the Utah Jazz have never been back to the Finals. Moreover, those two loses slammed the door shut on Stockton's hopes for a ring. Malone would get another whack at a title with the Lakers in 2004, but we all know how that turned out.
What made these loses especially poignant was that after coming up short, these two teams - and their star players - were shut out winning a championship.
As if losing Andrew Bynum for eight weeks wasn't enough, the news today is that energetic Trevor Ariza will also be out for eight weeks, after breaking his foot. Ariza isn't as an important asset at Bynum, but his energy and athleticism have fit in with this year's up-tempo offense. But I guess I should be thankful that these injuries are occurring in the doldrums of January, instead of on the doorstep of the playoffs.
The Lakers front court is hurting. Bynum and Ariza are out for eight weeks. Kwame Brown is not 100%. And here's a depressing stat: Kwame Brown is the third highest paid Laker, with a 2007-2008 salary eclipsing $9 million! He is third only to Kobe (~$19.5 million) and Lamar Odom (~$13.2 million). In a pure dollar sense, Kwame is equivalent to Luke Walton, Andrew Bynum, Jordan Farmar, Ronny Turiaf, and Sasha Vujacic - combined!
Tonight the Lakers square off against the Denver Nuggets who, at 24-15, are in a tight race with Portland and Utah for their division lead. The subplot for tonight: will Laker Colby Karl - son of Denver coach George Karl - play in tonight's game? He may see some playing time given the Laker's depleted roster. If so, it would be the third time in NBA history that a father coach and player son met on the hardwood. Does anyone happen to know the two other father/son coach/player matchups?
I just wanted to write this down, because I'm certain that this claim will be short lived with the injured Andrew Bynum, but... the Los Angeles Lakers have the third best record in the entire NBA!! They are sitting at 26-11, trailing only Boston (30-6) and Detroit (29-10). They currently lead perennial greats like San Antonio (25-11), and Dallas and Phoenix (both 26-12).
Of course, writing these words of exultation will likely curse the men in Purple and Gold to tear off a five game losing streak, but this is likely the only time in the season that I'll be able to write these words. So let me say it again: the Los Angeles Lakers have the third best record in the entire NBA!!
Just when everything seemed to be going to Lakers way, they lose their young phenom Andrew Bynum for eight weeks with a dislocated knee cap. Bynum is currently averaging a double-double, with over 13 points and 10 boards per night, and leads the league in field goal percentage at 63.6%.
Bynum's absence will undoubtedly impact the hot play of the Lakers. He brings a lot of energy to the floor and cleans up a lot of missed shots. His presence down low helps spread the floor and opens things up for Kobe. At least we have the All Star break coming soon, which will chew up a little under a week without any games being played. Moreover, we're in the NBA doldrums of January and February.
Things were going so well for the Lakers this year, their first really positive year since 2004. The first time since then that there's really been all around team play, instead of the ol' standby of "Get Kobe the ball and get out of the way." Hopefully Bynum's absence doesn't move Kobe into a me-first mentality. While it's jaw-dropping to watch Kobe score 81 like he did last year, it's not what this team needs. They need to keep running fast paced ball, they need to keep getting everyone involved, and they need to keep wracking up the W's and securing a playoff position where they won't have to start off the postseason facing San Antonio or Phoenix.
And if Bynum's injury wasn't bad enough news, the Lakers have a difficult stretch coming up: Phoenix and Denver at home, then San Antonio and Dallas on the road, followed by Cleveland at home.
The Lakers are continuing their hot streak, with a convincing win over the Hornets last night in New Orleans, 109-80. The Lakers shared the ball especially well, with five players in double-digits and with Kobe's high of 19. Every single Laker on the roster had at least 4 points, including Coby Karl, who netted 5 pts. The Lakers victory and Golden State's loss puts a little more distance between them and the Warriors, but they're still 2.5 games behind the Suns in their division.
On Friday night the Lakers meet the Bucks, in Los Angeles.
All things considered, the Los Angeles Lakers' season has been far better than expected. What started out with a dismal preseason performance with a pouty Kobe demanding a trade, has turned into a well-oiled team in second place in their division (only 2.5 games behind Phoenix) and with the 7th best record in the entire NBA. Kobe has been Kobe-like, leading his team in scoring, assists, and steals. Lamar has been a good second fiddle, averaging 14 points and 9 boards per night. And the young Andrew Bynum has been averaging a double-double, with 12.8 points and 10.1 rebounds per night. He's really developed well since last season.
This year's personnel offers the best rotation for this team since 2004 when Malone and Gary Payton were starting alongside Kobe, Shaq, and Rick Fox. This year, they have Derek Fisher back at starting PG, with the up and coming Jordan Farmar backing him up. The dynamic Trevor Ariza is starting and is backed up by the very dependable Luke Walton, a player that doesn't have the most talent but whose basketball IQ is immense. Seriously, when is the last time you saw Luke Walton make a bad play? A terrible pass, or a bone headed move like dribbling over the half court line, double teamed, then picking up his dribble? Or taking an ill advised shot? Luke just plays smart and doesn't try to play above his potential.
You have Lamar starting as a lanky yet effective PF and Bynum anchoring the center spot. And backups Sasha Vujacic, Vlad Radmanovic, and Chris Mihm are good enough to be starters on maybe 25% of the teams out there. I wouldn't be surprised if the Lakers backups - Farmar, Sasha, Luke, Vlad, and Mihm - as a starting five could actually beat some of the lower tiered teams' starting fives. I'd take them over the pathetic T-Wolves or the banged up Heat or the dysfunctional Knicks any day of the week. Plus if those five were the actual starting five of a team, it would be the first time five white guys started an NBA game since 1974!!
I think the Lakers can keep up their high level of play as long as they don't lose any key components to injury. Could this be the first post-Shaq year that the Lakers advance out of the first round of the playoffs? There's still a lot of basketball to be played in this season, but the way things are looking now, that definitely seems like a possibility. What's more, the Lakers have a young and very talented nucleus with Bynum and Farmar. Hopefully these two remain Lakers for many more years to come.
While I don't think the Lakers have a strong enough roster to get too far in the playoffs this year, I do believe that they're just a key offseason acquisitions away from taking the next step.