There is a myth circulating around the league that the Lakers are far and away the best team in the league, a virtual lock to win another championship. It almost seems as if they are unbeatable. And in fairness, they are the toughest team in the league to beat, especially if they are playing anywhere near what they are capable of.
However, they aren’t unbeatable. They are phenomenal. They have the size that is always talked about, usually more than extensively. As discussed, they can bring out at least 3 quality players that measure over 6’10” at the same time (in case you were wondering, Gasol, Odom, and Bynum). That is a lot of length that can deter even the likes of Dwyane Wade from attacking the basket with his usual onslaught.
That isn’t even mentioning the fact that they have at worst, the 2nd best player in the league in Kobe Bryant (1A maybe?). Sure, he is coming off more injuries than most teams get in a season, and he has had his share of struggles in recent weeks. But still, he is Kobe Bryant. As was the case last night when he went 15-28 from the field and 7-10 from the charity stripe for a game high 39 points. You would think that the Lakers, the defending Champions would have this win easily secured over a Miami Heat team that is struggling for a playoff birth in the Eastern Conference.
But it wasn’t the case. And I can’t really explain why the Lakers have played such tight games with the Heat in recent match-ups given their distinct height advantage (Jermaine O’Neal is the Heat center with Beasley the power forward, not exactly bulky giants). And wisdom would point to the fact that normally Kobe would at least negate Wade in normal match-ups.
Wade didn’t score as much or prolifically as Kobe did, only 27 on 9-21 shooting with 8 free throws sprinkled in. However, the key stat in Wade’s stat sheet was his 14 assists. Wade accounted for more points than Kobe did, who only dished out 4 assists. To be fair, Quentin Richardson played quite a game for Miami, knocking in 25 of his own points with 7 of the buckets coming from downtown, while the Lakers supporting staff wasn’t up for the challenge.
The second leading scorer on the Lakers was Derek Fisher with 14 points while Odom had a 13 and 10 game and Bynum also barely notched his own double-double.
Charles Barkley correctly pointed out that the Lakers are so good that Kobe Bryant doesn’t need to have a good game for them to win on a nightly basis, a luxury the Heat and the Cavaliers can’t afford (at least not against top teams). However, if he does have a good game and the rest of his team doesn’t show up as they normally do, it can only be classified as a wasted effort.
This isn’t something to worry about in Los Angeles, as the Lakers aren’t hurt by this one loss in the regular season and are still the preeminent favorites in the Western Conference. However, they aren’t invincible. They aren’t so much better than the competition that they have no worries at all. They are just as capable of losing in the semi-finals or conference finals as they ever were.
And as far as the Heat go, they unfortunately have about as little a chance as possible to advance out of the first round of the playoffs. They aren’t better than the Magic, Cavaliers, or Hawks. They may be able to push Boston, but a rational argument can’t be made for a victory in 7. The only chance the Heat has is if they play like they did last night: with committed defense and a mindset that they aren’t inferior. Also, Wade will have to play beyond tremendous for the Heat to have a shot.
Like the 2006 Wade when he took over the playoffs and securely thrust Shaq into a supporting role. So sure, if Wade can notch nearly 30 points a night and simultaneously dish out double digit assists, then the Heat have a good shot of advancing beyond the first round of the playoffs. Are you willing to rely on Quentin to hit an absurd amount of threes, especially over a prolonged series? Didn’t think so.
Another thing, is it appreciated enough what exactly Kobe is doing with a broken finger. Not sprained, not bruised. Broken. No, he sprained his ankle and his back is terrible. His finger is broken. His shooting hand finger. And he is still able to post 39 points with over 50% shooting from the field. He may not be the greatest sharer of the ball, but this is incredible and he does it all the time. Every year it seems he has to adjust his shooting technique in order to cope with some other horrendous hand troubles.
“We have big-moment, big-play type guys that love to step up to a big challenge like this and aren’t afraid of the moment.“
-Heat coach Erik Spoelstra