So the Spurs are sticking to the team line. "Yes, the Lakers are the favorites. They won the Championship, thus they are the team to beat." But when you get right down to it, how good are the Lakers really. On paper, and now in terms of jewelry, they should have the best/most talented/ most proven lineup. But I for one, believe last season was a fluke. The Lakers Championship run was a fragile house of cards where everything had to balance just right to avoid a horrible collapse.
Note: Take everything I write with the caveat that despite these "excuses", yes the Lakers did what they had to do and got the job done.
That only took 5 Shaq-less tries.
Exhibit 1: Injuries to Contenders: Seriously, of the 5 teams favored to make deep playoff runs after the all-star break, how many of them were healthy in the playoffs? Maybe 2. The Celtics were sans Kevin Garnett. The Spurs were sans El Contusion. Orlando was actively re-integrating Jameer Nelson which set off a slew of team chemistry questions throughout the Finals and either injury-wise or rhythm-wise limited him severely in his usual offensive potency. And even Cleveland had questions surrounding the ankle of Big Z. With next season looming there is no good reason to assume all of these contenders will not have their injury issues resolved, at least no better reason than thinking that Andrew Bynum won’t re-aggravate something come playoff time.
Garnett was of course held out of the playoffs due to a splitting headache from unknown causes.
Exhibit 2: Who they did play: What seemed an inevitability of Laker dominance in the playoffs, post the departure of the perennial threats of the Celtics, Spurs, and Cavs, turned into actual competition. This potentially would have been excusable had they been playing a proven contender that we should expect to turn in championship caliber performances. But the Rockets without Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady took the Lakers to 7 games. The incredibly potent offensive force of Carl Landry, Aaron "is he really that short" Brooks, Ron "the brick-layer" Artest, and Von "Nilla" Wafer cobbled together 3 wins and, for a very short period of time, had home court advantage on the LA Lakers.
Add in the Thuggets, even with Mr. Big Shot, who had the series evened at 2-2 at one point and I nearly lose respect for the Lakers. There were seriously periods where the Denver frontcourt composed of Nene, Kenyon Martin, the Birdman, and Kleiza appeared more talented than Bynum, Gasol, and Odom. And finally though its difficult to fault a team that wins a series 4-1 for nearly blowing it, remember that Orlando was one wide open layup at the buzzer and one Dwight Howard free throw away from taking a commanding 3-1 lead in that series. Again, the Lakers finished it and got the baskets when it counted, but this was an Orlando team in mild disarray shuffling point guards and rotations throughout the finals.
This guy seriously struck fear in to the heart of the Lakeshow.
Clearly only one thing to do. The Lakers Championship deserves a heartfelt asterisk.
There I did it. Doesn’t count unless they can do it again. The gauntlet has been thrown. Bring on some real teams in the playoffs and we’ll see. Hindsight is 20/20, and we’ll know soon enough. 2009-2010, it’s on!