Saturday, March 31, 2007

Lakers have me worried

That was some performance by Kobe Bryant last night.

He single-handedly brought the Lakers back from the dead against Houston with an incredible scoring display to end regulation. When it was all said and done though, it was yet another defeat for the Lakers.

Kobe's recent scoring outbursts have been a ton of fun to watch, and no one appreciates his talent more than people like me who watch him night in and night out. However, this recent run also has me very concerned for the Lakers postseason chances.

L.A. was the surprise team of the first half of this season because everyone else was contributing on a nightly basis. There were few instances where Bryant had to take a "me vs. them" shooting attitude, and the Lakers succeeded because of it. The same point can be made about last season's playoff series with Phoenix, at least the part where the Lakers surged to a 3-1 lead.

So, the fact that Bryant needs to score 50+ for the Lakers to win lately leads me to predict playoff doom unless everyone else steps it up to help him. That's the problem, though, as I'm not sure the Lakers are healthy enough to help him. Lamar Odom is one bad fall or pull from really being in trouble with his shoulder. Kwame Brown can't jump because of his ankle. Luke Walton isn't the same guy he was before he got hurt. Mo Evans can't get on the floor because of fluid in his knee. Andrew Bynum seems to have hit a rookie wall, which is a problem since this is his second year.

Now, this shouldn't read like I'm killing everyone but Kobe. That's not my point. I fear that Bryant is seeing the walking wounded and assuming he has to kick it into scoring mode because no one else will. To a large extent, he's probably right. But Bryant took half of his team's shots last night (44 of 88) to get 53 points. No one else on the team had 10 field goal attempts. As a group, they are going to have to be more balanced than this to win a playoff series.

Never say never when you have someone like Kobe Bryant to bail you out of seemingly any situation, but unless everyone gets healthier and they find a good team dynamic, I'm no longer convinced this team can beat San Antonio. I was about two months ago.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Return

So, I’m back. Thanks for your patience.

Where have I been for the last month or so? I’ve been lamenting what happened to such a promising NBA season.

It all started with the All-Star break and the let down of the entire event.

Then came the trading deadline passing with absolutely nothing happening. I would have written about that in great detail, but Bill Simmons did such a perfect job recapping it on it seemed pointless to write my own version of the same thing.

So many teams could have upgraded their rosters or started their offseason makeovers, and yet, no one did anything. For me, it made this second half of the season rather pointless, since the only thing still at play is playoff seeding and who will sneak into the playoffs as a sacrificial lamb for the Pistons and Mavericks.

As if that wasn’t enough to make me sad about the second half, Dwayne Wade got hurt and inexplicably was taken off the court in a wheelchair even though his injury was a dislocated shoulder. My prediction of a huge MVP-type second half for Wade officially circled the drain.

However, all of that would have been fine as long as my Los Angeles Lakers stayed healthy and strong headed into the playoffs. After all, they were a surprise story to many, and Kobe Bryant was positioning his squad to make a legitimate run at pulling an upset over at least San Antonio in the postseason.

Ah, but not even the Lakers could avoid the Season of Injuries. First Kwame Brown and Luke Walton sprained their ankles. Then Vlad Radmanovic decided to snowboard during the All-Star break, fell and hurt his shoulder. Oh, and he lied about it to the team, claiming he fell on some ice. And if that wasn’t enough, Lamar Odom, who recently returned from a knee injury that claimed two months of his season, went down with a labrum problem. Then, someone really decided to become spiteful and inflicted Ronny Turiaf with back spasms and Maurice Evans with fluid in his knee. Screw you Basketball Higher Powers!!

To the surprise of no one, the Lakers are now 33-30 and dangerously close to drawing the Phoenix Suns again in the postseason. The 50-win prediction is dead, and all excitement I have for the season is buried with it. Throw in that Kobe keeps punching defenders in the face while shooting, and it’s very hard to watch a team I dropped everything for earlier in the year.

In a nutshell, that’s the reason for the lack of blog entries.

But that’s about to change. I’m going to try to find the positive in the rest of this season.

For instance, can anyone beat the Mavericks? I’m not talking about in a playoff series. I’m asking if they will ever lose again, period.

Is San Antonio legitimately making a run with their winning streak, or is their bench too old for the postseason?

Do the Bulls, who stood pat at the trade deadline, have the ability to win a playoff series or two while relying solely on jump shooting for their offense? And how will they shut down Chris Bosh if they draw the Raptors? I’m openly rooting for that series.

Will LeBron kick things into high gear and have a Dwayne Wade-like postseason to single-handedly carry the Cavs to the Eastern Finals? I think he will, but that might be wishful thinking at this point.

Who will win the Oden/Durant sweepstakes? Will either guy actually enter the draft?

Has Andre Iguodala become a franchise player in Philadelphia?

Can Shaq continue to make his critics look foolish as he puts Miami on his back for a late-season run? Should he get a pass for clearly taking half the season off if he does?

And last but certainly not least; can the Knicks make the playoffs? We can only hope. As much as I love Dwight Howard and the Magic, I’d much rather see the Knicks get in at this point.

I can’t wait to find out the answers to these questions. At least that’s what I keep telling myself.