Lakers-Spurs: Tastes great, less filling
It's an old advertising maxim that only a second-place product mentions its competitor, hoping to give the illusion that it is on equal footing with the industry leader. The top dog avoids any unprompted mention of a challenger to avoid the same illusion.
Which explains why the Lakers are more than happy to talk about the San Antonio Spurs and how much they're looking forward to their upcoming series.
Only, to be clear, this is not Miller pretending to challenge Budweiser with mock presidential debates. This is more like Zima welcoming a taste-off.
At the risk of carrying the analogy too far, don't make too much of Zima (the Lakers) dispatching the Rolling Rock(ets). If anything, that first-round battle exposed why the Lakers shouldn't be taken seriously as a championship contender. Let's count the reasons:
The fact is that, throughout the series, Houston scored on uncontested layups against the Lakers -- including Game 5 -- even though the first Lakers defender was often beaten above the free-throw line. Granted, Rockets guards Steve Francis and Cuttino Mobley are quick, but Spurs guards Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are quicker, not to mention far better at actually using a pick to turn the corner or dishing to a rolling big man if their driving lane is cut off.
Perhaps the greatest reflection of the Lakers' level of confidence, though, is Jackson. Have you ever known him to be this consistently gracious? He hasn't made a condescending remark about an opponent yet and the last time I can remember that happening was the year he took the Bulls to the playoffs without Jordan. Whatever you may think of him, he only cracks on an opponent when he's certain he won't have to eat his words. My guess is Phil knows what's up, which is why he's piping down.
Here's another consideration -- if the Lakers did win it all, there might be a push to keep the team together. That has to be a horrible thought for all concerned. So what motivation do they have for making it happen?
The beer-commercial analogy isn't quite perfect because the Spurs, of course, have acknowledged the Lakers. But they've only done so when prompted by the media and in that we-take-everybody-seriously way that is the Spurs' mantra. But there is one more reason, and it's the same one for the Bud horse not engaging the Miller candidate. It isn't because he's a horse or he's wearing blinders. It's because, from where the horse stands, there's nothing to debate.
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