L.A.'s turnaround remains a mystery
They are either Hollywood's hottest entertainers, or they have been sandbagging us this whole time.
Actually, maybe they're both.
The Lakers are such a mystery to themselves that it took 96 games, counting exhibitions, for the group to start playing withering defense and playing with a real oneness.
They're not proud of it, either.
"It shouldn't be like that," Shaquille O'Neal says. "We should be out here killing teams."
Says Game 5 hero Derek Fisher: "I wish I knew why." Fish went onto to suggest that, if the Lakers "could bottle" the unity and intensity they unleashed in Games 3 through 6 against the Spurs, "We probably would have been the team people expected."
Well, guess what?
They are now.
Yet Phil Jackson is vigorously defending his players, insisting that, to him, it's perfectly acceptable that the Lakers took so long to make Shaq the centerpiece of their offense and shame him into some active defending on the side.
That's because Jackson believes the Lakers weren't capable of being these Lakers until the San Antonio series.
"They couldn't play that way all year," Jackson said, blaming the injuries that, most notably, cost Karl Malone half a season. "They weren't on the floor together."
They are now.
Now that the Lakers have KO'd the defending champs, Jackson will be in line for praise for gradually going away from the offense that has won him nine championships. It's an even bigger deal that Jackson, in this series, finally abandoned his stubborn refusal to send multiple defenders at Tim Duncan. The Lakers didn't do so last spring when San Antonio won in six games.
You can be sure Jackson didn't enjoy making either concession, but he made them and the Lakers recovered from 2-0 down.
It's a fine line.
Of course, if you listen to Hollywood's real-life Fisher King, they're all coming back.
That's not what I'd be betting on, but everyone in L.A. stops to listen these days when Fish makes a proclamation.
"I think it all depends on how strong we finish," he said. "That's just the nature of professional sports these days. You finish strong and everyone finds a way to get back together."
Playing against the Lakers, for the Spurs, clearly unsettled a guy famed for his playoff cool. But that obscures the fact that Horry had a pretty fair season in San Antonio until the L.A. series. Up until he had to play the Lakers in the second round, Horry saw his switch to the dreaded SBC Center as perfectly normal.
"I didn't hate the Spurs," Horry said of his Laker days. "How can you hate a team that has guys like Duncan and David Robinson? That's like you're trying to hate the Pope or something."
These playoffs have boosted claims from the Wade camp that we indeed had three worthy Rookie of the Year candidates. Wade has six 20-point games in the playoffs, the most since Alonzo Mourning had six for Charlotte in 1993. The rookie record for 20-point games in the playoffs is 10, held by a decent scorer with 1970's Milwaukee Bucks named Lew Alcindor.
Wade, furthermore, is attempting to be just the fifth rookie since 1952-53 -- and the seventh all time -- to lead his team in points per game and assists per game in the postseason. Wade is averaging 17.5 points and 5.9 assists in the playoffs, and his predecessors include one Michael Jordan, who averaged 29.3 points and 8.5 assists for Chicago in 1985.
Reason being: Indy is 16-1 when Reggie scores at least 15 points and is hoping it happens a few more times.
Problem is, it has only happened once in the playoffs so far. Miller had 19 points in just 18 minutes in a Game 2 victory over the Heat.
Getting Miller going in Game 6 or Game 7, if he has something left to give, will certainly get the Pacers to the conference finals.
Well, yeah. But not necessarily the best defense.
Only once since 1980 has the NBA's champion also led the league in scoring defense during the regular season. That was Detroit, when it allowed 98.3 points per game in 1989-90.
The Pistons and Spurs shared the league lead in scoring defense this season at 84.3 points per game allowed. Until Detroit won Game 6 at New Jersey on Sunday night, it looked like neither of the league's stingiest clubs would be reaching the conference finals, and the Pistons still have to beat the Nets in a Game 7 to get there.
In one of the true injustices in America, the 1979 cult favorite isn't available on DVD, as far as I know. Mere VHS copies are pretty scarce. All I have is a grainy version I taped about 20 years ago, with the commercials. Still ...
Who could forget Lucian Tucker lifting up his jersey to reveal a "Trade Me" message painted on his stomach? Those dreadfully edited scenes where Dr. J could take off at halfcourt and still throw down a windmill dunk? Every time Bruce Bowen sinks a three from his favorite spot, I remember Jackhammer Washington's legendary soliloquy: "Rappin' and slappin', that's my claim to fame. Plus I've got a mean B-ball game. From the corner, it's a goner."
On top of that Cal State Fullerton/Leon Wood throwback I'm still waiting for someone to market, can someone in the jersey business answer me this one: Why can I find Slap Shot hockey sweaters all over the place, but never Pittsburgh Pisces retro gear?
Does Robert Horry still think the first two games of a series are the most important?
STEIN: It was a rough week indeed for Horry's theories, and for those who subscribed to them. He also said back in October that he didn't think Duncan would feel outnumbered against the Lakers' four future Hall of Famers, because Horry considered Parker and Ginobili ready to help Duncan at the highest level. Said Horry at the time: "Those three guys right there ... man, you can just add anybody to that." Parker and Ginobili apparently aren't quite there yet.
"I don't think so. This was the Finals."
— San Antonio's Parker, asked if Minnesota or Sacramento or the Eastern Conference champion can deny the Lakers a championship.
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