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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Lakers Season Over, Kobe One Man Show (5.21.12)

Kobe Bryant walked a lonely road on Monday night.

Kobe poured in 42 of LA's 90 points. Kobe pulled out all the stops and played as if the game was do or die, which it was. Unfortunately, the rest of the Lakers did not play with the same fire.

Kobe even dunked the ball five times, something he hasn't done since his 20's. Following his posterization of Emeka Okafor last postseason, Kobe stated, "It's a message for us that is important. And you know I save those. I don't have many of those left." Well, Kobe emptied his tank and gave everything against the Oklahoma City Thunder in game five, but he couldn't do it alone and the Lakers lost 90-106. The Lakers will now face a long offseason full of questions and lacking answers.

The Lakers were neck and neck with OKC all game. Lead changes were abundant. The Lakers entered the fourth quarter down 77-83. Then, Mike Brown made his worst coaching decision of the year. Brown sat Kobe to start the fourth. This is Brown's normal rotation, however, it should have been obvious to Brown that Kobe was the only guy getting the job done. As Kobe sat, the Thunder rattled off 5 points in the first minute. Brown called timeout, but he still didn't sub Kobe in. Following a Sessions turnover, Kevin Durant nailed a 3 to make the score 77-91 with 10:30 remaining in the game. Following a consecutive Sessions turnover, Brown subbed Kobe in, but it was too late. LA would never get the deficit below double digits as the Thunder ran away with the victory. Blaming Brown may be a case of armchair quarterback. But his decision to watch OKC pour in 5 easy points in a minute, and still sit Kobe coming out of a timeout, is unforgivable. Just like the rest of the Lakers, Mike Brown was not ready for the big moment. The way Kobe was rolling, Brown should have went with him for the rest of the game. Kobe is an all-time great when it comes to pushing through the limits of exhaustion. Maybe the game would have been different if the deficit hadn't swollen to 14 points within the first three minutes of the fourth quarter.

Kobe finished the game 18-33, 1-6 from deep, for 42 points, 5 rebounds, 2 steals, and 2 turnovers. His critics will laughably point to the fact that he had zero assists. I won't. Kobe set the table, but the other guys didn't deliver. Kobe was aggressive all night. His poor deep shooting mostly resulted in the fourth quarter as he fired up desperation 3's, going 0-3. Although he played hard, Pau provided a disappointing 5-14, 0-1 from deep, for 14 points, 16 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 blocks, and 3 turnovers. Kobe had some heated moments with Pau down the stretch, even yelling at him at times, but my guess is that Kobe was just frustrated with the way the game was going and he nitpicked Pau. One thing Kobe couldn't nitpick was Pau's effort. At least Pau showed up, the same can't be said for Bynum.

Bynum was absolute garbage. He was routinely forced off his spots on the block. He failed to dominate the paint. He just couldn't score on Kendrick Perkins. Then there was his defensive effort. Bynum routinely played soft defense, at times he even looked like a matador pulling the muleta. A possible explanation could be the three fouls he picked up in the first half, with the third one an absolute phantom foul. But there was no excuse for his fourth foul in the opening moments of the third quarter. Bynum reached on a pick and roll and he ended up tripping Kevin Durant. Instead of playing fundamental basketball and moving his feet, Bynum opted to choose the easy route and reach. He got burned and was unable to play aggressive basketball for the rest of the half. Bynum finished the game 4-10 for 10 points, 4 rebounds, and 1 steal. Notice any holes in that stat line? Foul trouble may impact blocks, but foul trouble should not impact work on the glass. Four rebounds is inexcusable. Four rebounds in 35 minutes highlights a lack of effort. Bynum's lazy game came at the worst possible time. I fully believe that Bynum's lack of effort cost the Lakers the victory. Bynum stated after the game, "Tonight was the worst game I played all year." Yeah, no kidding.

Excluding Kobe, the Lakers shot 16-42 for 38%. Those numbers would have been even worse if Metta World Peace hadn't gone 4-5 for his 11 points. As a whole, LA shot 34-75 for 45.3%, and 2-11 from deep for 18.2%. The Lakers lost every important category that they needed to win. OKC inexcusably out rebound LA 51-35. OKC outscored LA 50-46 for points in the paint. OKC outscored LA 30-6 on fast break points. OKC dished out more assists also, 20-12. The only category LA won was points off turnovers, LA forced 12 turnover for 15 points, whereas OKC forced 12 for only 12 points. Not much of a victory. The biggest signifiers for the loss are the rebound totals and the fast break points. Despite employing two seven footers, LA could not win the battle on the boards. OKC dominated on the offensive glass, pulling down 14 compared to LA's measly 3. This should have been the other way around. Giving a high octane team more possessions is never wise. With LA unable to crash the offensive glass, OKC capitalized by pulling down defensive rebounds and getting out in transition. 30 points off of the fast break is just way too many. No one will beat OKC if they pour in 30 fast break points.

The first play of the game served as a foreshadow of events to come. Bynum could not capitalize on an iso at the near mid block. Perkins would not budge as Bynum attempted to back him down into the lane. Bynum eventually gave up on trying to move Perkins, and he kicked the ball out to Sessions at the near wing 3. Sessions nearly air balled the wide open shot as it came up real short. Durant nailed a pull up jumper off a curl. Pau responded with an aggressive drive, but he ended up missing the entire rim on a running lefty hook in the lane. Sessions followed by drawing a foul, but missing both free throws. Then Westbrook nailed a pull up jumper off the pick and roll. Kobe responded with a baseline turnaround bank shot from the far mid block to get LA on the board. Bynum followed with a 6ft miss over Perkins in the lane. Then Pau missed an open 17ft jumper from the far mid wing. Pau kept at it though, and he finished a dunk in transition after MWP hit him trailing in the lane.

Then Kobe got going. Kobe was very efficient throughout the game by scoring in early offense opportunities. Following a Westbrook missed jumper, Kobe pushed up the near side, attacked to the middle, got to the far elbow, and hit the 12ft jumper. Then Pau stole an alley oop lob pass. Pau hit Kobe, and Kobe pushed up the near side, got to the free throw line, and hit the 14ft jumper in transition. Following a Metta strip of Perkins at the far block, Kobe pushed up the far side, backed down from the far wing, turned baseline, and finished a reverse layup at the near side.

Following a Sessions blocked layup, OKC pushed the ball and Westbrook hit KD for an alley oop dunk. Pau missed an open jumper, and Bynum picked up his second foul while going for a rebound. Bynum was subbed out with 4:43 to go in the first. Then Ibaka drove the lane, missed a floater, fought through to crash the glass, and finished with a dunk. This was OKC's seventh offensive rebound of the quarter. Such effort cannot be overlooked. It clearly points to the inability of the Lakers to play hard and strong in the paint. A minute after Bynum picked up his second foul, so did Kobe. Following a missed jumper, Kobe backpedaled as Harden pushed up the court. Harden ran over Kobe at the near elbow, and Kobe flew back. Harden lowered his shoulder and plowed Kobe, but the refs called a block. Block/charge calls are difficult, but this one seemed to be a bit questionable. Kobe took the hit square in the chest and fell back. Harden sank both free throws. Kobe stayed in the game and tried to establish Pau in the post. Kobe stood at the near top 3 and looked to hit Pau at the block. Pau couldn't establish position on Nick Collison, and he ended up getting pushed out all the way from the mid block to the near wing. Pau caught the pass at the near wing, quickly attacked baseline, and absorbed the foul on the drive. Pau sank both free throws, but his inability to own the paint was disappointing. Pau beating someone off the dribble 23ft from the basket is never optimal.

Kobe responded with a strong close on the quarter. First Kobe abused Fisher on an iso. Kobe backed down Fish at the near mid wing, turned baseline, and hit the 15ft turnaround jumper. Then he pounded the ball from the far wing to the top. Kobe used a Hill pick to get to the near mid wing. Kobe pumped, sealed Durant on his right hip, leaned in and hit the 13ft lefty bank. Yes, lefty. Kobe then stole a pass, but Blake couldn't capitalize on an open corner 3. Kobe actually caught a break to close the quarter. Nazr Mohammed gathered an offensive rebound and was fouled at the far block with 0.5 remaining in the quarter. Kobe should have been the culprit, as he swung through Nazr's arms to prevent the putback, but the refs assigned the foul to Hill.

The Lakers finished the quarter down 21-26. Kobe went 6-9 for 15 points, 1 rebound, and 1 steal. Bynum went 0-1 for 0 points, 1 rebound, and 1 steal. Pau went 1-6 for 4 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 blocks. Pau's activity was great, but he just couldn't get the ball to drop. Westbrook struggled, going 2-7 for 4 points and 2 assists. Durant went 2-4 for 4 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 turnover.

To start the second quarter, Mike Brown stated to TNT sideline reporter, Craig Sager, "The one thing we can't do is we can't get pushed out of our spots and get pushed around tonight." This was an obvious reference to both Bynum and Pau. Brown must have ingrained this message during the break, because Bynum and Pau did a much better job offensively from the block. Unfortunately, the Lakers would fail to establish their position consistently once the second half started. With Kobe sitting to start the second, LA featured Bynum. Pau started it off by finishing a tip dunk following a Sessions missed layup. Collison responded with an easy layup on the pick and roll. Bynum conceded the bucket to avoid his third foul. Then Sessions ran a pick and roll from the near top. Sessions attacked to the free throw line, drew the help man, and lobbed the ball to the rolling Bynum for the alley oop dunk. OKC came right back with the same pick and roll set. Collison dribbled from the top 3 to the near top 3. Harden took the handoff and dribbled left to the top 3. On the previous play, Collison got an easy layup. This time, Bynum got caught staring at Collison rolling to the bucket. Bynum stared, and Harden hit the flashing Mohammed at the far block for a wide open dunk. Bynum responded with an iso at the near mid block. Bynum took two dribbles, turned baseline, and hit the righty hook. However, Bynum once again failed on the defensive end. Fisher probed the far mid wing and hit Mohammed at the far elbow. Nazr pumped, and Bynum bit on the fake. Nazr blew by Bynum and finished an easy dunk. Why Bynum would ever bite on a jumper from Mohammed is beyond reason. Despite his offensive production, Bynum gave all of his points back with weak defensive plays.

Sessions responded with a floater and some free throws to tie the game up at 32. His free throws were a direct result of an excellent play by Devin Ebanks. Ebanks air balled an open 17ft jumper from the far mid corner, but he didn't give up on the play. Harden pushed up the court in transition, but Ebanks caught up to him as he went up for the layup. Ebanks swatted the layup and Sessions pushed up the court in transition to draw the foul and free throws. Bynum followed with an iso at the near mid block. Bynum faced up, jabbed right, attacked baseline and spun back middle. Bynum stepped through the double, battled through the foul, and finished the layup, and one. He sank the free throw.

Following this, Kendrick Perkins checked back in the game and Bynum was once again irrelevant. Kobe also checked in and he immediately looked to feed Bynum. Kobe dribbled at the near wing and fed Bynum at the bear block. Bynum passively backed down Perkins, and he ended up kicking the ball back out to Kobe at the top 3. Kobe missed the 3 to beat the clock. A couple minutes later, Bynum picked up his third foul at the 5:24 mark. Kobe forced Harden into a tough floater in the lane. Bynum went up for the defensive rebound, but he only grabbed the ball with one hand. Harden ripped the ball out and went up for the putback. Bynum elevated straight up in the air, and Harden missed the putback. Once Harden missed, the whistle blew late, and Bynum was assigned the foul. This phantom foul was egregious. The replay showed Perkins holding down Bynum's arm as he went for the rebound, which led to the soft one handed rebound that was ripped away. Then the replay showed Harden and Bynum narrowly avoid contact as Harden went up for the putback. If Harden had finished the putback, a foul would not have been called.

Metta, Pau, and Kobe closed the quarter. Pau started with a baseline turnaround jumper that Metta assisted. Metta then drove the lane and created contact for a trip to the line, he sank both. Then Pau forced Westbrook to miss a tough contested layup. Kobe pushed the ball up, hit MWP at the near side 3, and MWP fed Pau at the near block. MWP cut through to the baseline, and Pau hit him in the lane for a layup under the basket. Then Kobe pulled out a reverse dunk that looked like it belonged in 1998. If Kobe had an afro, you would have guessed he was a teenager again. Kobe used an iso at the near mid wing. He faced up, jabbed right, swung through, and attacked the baseline. Kobe blew by Harden and threw down the 180, one handed reverse dunk. The next possession, Kobe pumped at the far side 3, got Harden to jump, leaned into Harden to absorb the contact, and fired up the 20ft jumper. No foul was called on the play and Harden finished a layup in transition. Kobe was pretty upset with the no call. He responded by establishing position at the far mid wing. Harden fronted Kobe, so Sessions swung the ball from the far top 3 to Pau at the top of the key. Pau sent a perfect lob as Kobe spun off Harden and cut to the rim. Kobe caught the lob and threw down the two handed alley oop dunk. Metta followed by driving from the near wing into the middle. Once in the lane, Metta dumped the ball off to Pau for the easy layup.

Then the refs overreacted and gave OKC free points. Ebanks started the scene with a great chase down block on Durant. Sessions took the outlet and pushed up the near side. Sessions then threw a horrible cross court pass that third graders make. Sefolosha stole the ball and pushed up the court. With Metta as his only obstacle, Thabo attacked the rim. Metta went up for the block, got his entire right hand on the ball, and Thabo fell to the floor. Metta's right hand got all ball, but his left hand gave a little push to Thabo in the back. Thabo fell to the ground, and it seemed like the refs were just going to call the play as it was, a hard foul. Then the refs convened and assigned Metta a flagrant foul. Metta cried out in disbelief and was awarded a technical foul. As Durant shot the technical, Kobe talked to the refs and was also assigned a technical. Durant hit both technical free throws, and Sefolosha sank the flagrant free throws. Reggie Miller called out the refs, and stated, "It's guilt by association," referencing Metta's past. The change to a flagrant was absolutely an overreaction based on the fall. Reggie harped on the blatant mistake, and the halftime crew of Shaq, Kenny, and Charles also called out the refs, with Charles stating, "That was a joke, that wasn't even close to a flagrant foul."

The half ended with LA down 51-54. Kobe nearly fed Ebanks a dunk before the end of the half, but Ebanks didn't score before the buzzer. Kobe finished 2-6 for 4 points and 2 rebounds. Bynum went 3-3 for 7 points and 1 rebound. Bynum's offensive production was negated by his defensive mistakes. Pau went 3-3 for 6 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 turnover. Westbrook went 2-4 for 4 points and 1 rebound. Durant went 2-6 for 8 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 steal. OKC's big three of Durant, Westbrook, and Harden scored 33 of the 54 points in the half.

The third quarter featured more Kobe, an explosion by Westbrook, and more struggles for Bynum.

Bynum struggled right out of the gate to start the second half. On the first offensive possession, Sessions fed Bynum at the far block. Bynum pounded the ball with three dribbles, but Perkins wouldn't budge. Bynum kicked out to MWP at the far wing, and MWP sent the reentry. Perk almost swam around Bynum and stole the entry, but Bynum was just barely able to fend him off. Bynum took one dribble, turned baseline, and missed the lefty hook. Durant brought the ball up court, ran the high pick and roll from the top, and attacked left. Durant came off the pick to his left, and then crossed back to his right. Instead of moving his feet and staying in front of KD, Bynum went for the reach, and he ended up tripping Durant, and picking up his fourth foul in the process. Bynum knew he had three fouls. Bynum knew there was no way in hell he was going to pickpocket Durant. But he still went for the lazy reach. Unacceptable. Bynum responded by posting at the far block, taking two dribbles, turning baseline, and hitting the lefty hook. But this was immediately negated by another defensive lapse. Sefolosha held the ball at the far wing as Durant ran the baseline to the far corner. With MWP trailing KD, Bynum decided to leave Perkins at the rim to run out to the corner and deny the pass to Durant. This would have been a fine play if Metta had called for a switch or help, but Metta didn't. Metta kept running after KD, and with two guys out at the corner, Sefolosha hit Perkins wide open at the rim for a dunk. Reggie Miller immediately stated, "Why would you send Andrew Bynum out to the corner to guard Kevin Durant?" I'm sure the coaches were wondering that too Reggie. Bynum must have made the decision on his own, because Metta was definitely not expecting to switch onto Perkins at the block.

With Bynum making boneheaded plays, Kobe kicked it into high gear. Kobe started with a layup as he curled to the free throw line and attacked the basket for a lefty finish. Then he popped from the dotted line in the lane up to the near top key to hit a 21ft jumper in early transition offense. Then he dunked on Durant after Sefolosha saved a ball from going out at the baseline. Kobe caught the save at the far elbow and attacked the basket. Durant elevated, but wisely chose to get out of the way and avoid being on a poster. Following a Pau tip in, Kobe pulled out the Dirk shot. Kobe dribbled from the near corner to the near mid block. Kobe backed down Sefolosha, shot the one-foot step back knee raise jumper, and sank the shot. Kobe took the hit on the elbow to make it an and one, he finished the free throw to make the score 66-64.

Durant responded with his own Dirk shot. Then Pau had a pretty ugly moment. Pau tried to establish position at the near mid block, but he failed and he was pushed out all the way to the near side 3. Pau caught the pass and attacked to the middle. Pau picked up his dribble at the dotted lines in the lane. Pau didn't really think about what he was doing at this moment. With no one to pass to, Pau looked lost. With Ibaka crowding him, Pau began falling backwards, so he shot a flat footed fading jumper in order to avoid the travel. He missed short. Durant brought the ball up and ran the high pick and roll. Durant attacked left and tried to cross back right. MWP tapped the ball out from behind and Kobe picked it up and pushed the full length of the court to finish a two handed dunk just ahead of Perkins. Kobe sped ahead of Perkins just enough to avoid what I'm assuming would have been a hard foul at the rim.

Bynum continued his horrible play. Bynum started it off by playing pretty decent pick and roll defense as he contained Harden in the lane. Harden dumped off to Collison, and Pau swatted Collison at the near block. Instead of dropping back to Perkins after containing Harden, Bynum stood and watched Pau. Following the block, the ball flew to the far block, and Perkins finished the putback. The Lakers came down and tried to feed Bynum. Pau stood at the far top key and he looked to hit Bynum at the far block. Pau opted to swing to Kobe at the far wing. Kobe looked to hit Bynum also, but Perkins side fronted. Kobe swung back to Pau, and Pau hit Bynum. Bynum quickly turned baseline and missed a lefty 4ft hook. Bynum then came down on defense, failed to box out, and watched his man, Collison, finish a Durant missed 3 with a tip dunk. Bynum pulled out the matador move and let Collison right by him to finish the dunk.

Then Russell Westbrook stole the show. Sessions brought the ball up and tried to hit Kobe with a lazy pass to the near top key. Westbrook shot the gap, stole the ball, and pushed up the court. Sessions wrapped up Westbrook at the near elbow, but Westbrook threw up a running scoop shot that banked in from 15ft, and one. The crowd exploded, Westbrook was fired up, and he sank the free throw. The next play down, Kobe held the ball at the far wing, and he expected Pau to either set a hard screen or slip the screen. Pau did neither and instead drifted. Kobe attacked the baseline and ended up traveling on a step through move. Kobe immediately yelled at Pau on the way back down the court. Pau seemed to accept the blame with a head nod. Kobe let out an exasperated, "F***!" on his way back down the court. Following a Metta 3 in transition to tie the game at 73, Westbrook hit a pull up 11ft jumper from the far elbow.

Bynum followed with another clank. Metta stood at the far wing and looked to hit Bynum at the far block. Bynum was fronted, but he worked to spin around and get Perkins on his back. Metta swung the ball to Pau at the far top key, and Bynum threw his hands down in frustration. Pau swung to Kobe at the near wing. Kobe used a Pau pick to attack the middle, and he kicked to MWP at the far side 3. Metta fed Bynum at the far block, and Bynum waited for the double to clear out. Bynum took one dribble, turned baseline, and missed the lefty hook. Bynum shot it short, just like every other miss he had on the night. Harden took the rebound, pushed full court, and finished the layup in transition. Then Sessions came down and set up Bynum for an easy shot at the rim. Sessions attacked from the top 3 to the free throw line. Sessions sent a bounce pass to Bynum at the far block, and Bynum went up soft. Perkins swatted his shot.

Westbrook responded with a pull up 12ft bank jumper, and one. He made the free throw, making the score 73-80. Kobe responded with a 3 at the near top 3. Kobe used a down screen from Pau to pop up and nail the shot in early offense. Westbrook responded by capitalizing on a cross matchup. With Pau on him, Westbrook filled in the space and hit the pull up jumper from the free throw line.

Kobe tried to counter with an attack to the basket. He drove baseline from the far wing, got to the far block, spun middle, and threw up a contested shot. Kobe missed, and Pau followed with a tip in. However, Pau's tip didn't count. The third quarter buzzer went off with the ball still on his fingertips. The Lakers missed out on four points by less than a second due to buzzer beater end of quarter situations. The Lakers finished the quarter down 77-83. Kobe finished the quarter 6-9 for 15 points, 1 rebound, 1 steal, and 2 turnovers. Bynum went 1-5 for 2 points and 2 rebounds. Pau went 1-2 for 4 points, 4 rebounds, 1 block, and 1 turnover. Westbrook went 5-8 for 12 points, 1 assist, and 2 steals, KD went 2-6 for 5 points, 4 rebounds, 1 steal, and 1 turnover.

With the game within striking distance, Mike Brown decided to try to buy Kobe some time for rest. Kobe sat to start the fourth, whereas Durant, Westbrook, and Harden all started for OKC. Pau started the quarter with an aggressive drive, but he missed the running lefty hook from 5ft. Harden responded with a 17ft jumper following a pick and roll. The Lakers tried to respond with Bynum, but they failed. Pau stood at the near elbow, drove middle, and kicked to Sessions at the far wing. Sessions swung to Ebanks at the far corner. Ebanks looked to hit Bynum, but the spacing was not right. Bynum came out to set a screen, and Ebanks took two dribbles to his right to shoot a wide open jumper from the far mid wing. Ebanks bricked it. Westbrook raced up the near side in transition. Westbrook noticed that no one was running out to pick up Durant, so he hit KD at the near wing 3. Durant swished the open jumper in transition as Blake desperately tried to close out. Brown called timeout with the score at 77-88 at the 11:03 mark. Brown surprisingly left Kobe on the bench coming out of the timeout. Sessions committed a charge, and KD hit another 3. Sessions came down and committed another turnover after putting too much speed on a pass into Bynum at the far block. The ball sailed out of bounds.

Kobe checked back in for Sessions at the 10:11 mark with the score at 77-91. It wouldn't matter. The Thunder blew the game open and never looked back. Despite the inevitability, Kobe kept battling. Kobe hit a 16ft jumper from the far top key. Then he used a pick from Pau at the top 3. Kobe attacked left, split the hedge, and attacked the basket to finish with a dunk. Reggie Miller stated, "It's been a one man show out here." OKC immediately took a timeout, and Durant came out and hit a 16ft pull up jumper over MWP at the far elbow to make the score 84-99 with 6:18 to go. KD smiled on his way back down the court, realizing that the game was pretty much over. Kobe dropped his 40th point with another split on the hedge. Kobe took a handoff from Pau at the near top 3. Kobe attacked to the free throw line, crossed right, got to the near mid block, and hit a 9ft bank shot to put the deficit at 13 with 4:54 to go.

With LA getting desperate, Kobe let his frustrations get the best of him. Kobe brought the ball up the far side and picked up his dribble. Kobe angrily slapped the ball after a miscommunication between him and Pau. Kobe handed off to Pau, and got it right back. Kobe attacked to the far mid corner and missed the contested jumper. Reggie stated, "They just haven't been on the same page." With OKC up by 15, Kobe checked out at the :57 mark. OKC finished the game and won 90-106. Kobe finished the quarter 4-9, 0-3 on desperate 3's, for 8 points and 1 rebound. Bynum went 0-1 for 1 point in over 10 minutes. How can a seven foot center not pick up a rebound in over 10 minutes of play? Well if you play with no heart, that's one way. Pau went 0-3 for 0 points and 3 rebounds. Westbrook went 3-6 for 8 points, 2 rebounds, and 1 assist. Durant finished 3-5 for 8 points and 2 rebounds.

With LA bowing out in the second round for the second straight year, moves will surely be made. I expect Pau Gasol to be moved for more depth at the wing position. I love Pau Gasol. I love his skill, his intellect, and his ability when he's engaged. However, for the past two years, Pau has been a main culprit in postseason exits. Pau's consistency has been questionable, but it may be a product of conceding to Bynum. Pau rarely utilized his skills in the post this season. Instead Pau had to stand at the top of the key and at the mid wings in order to space the court for Bynum. If Pau and Bynum were the same age, I'd keep Pau, but they aren't. Pau is older and he serves as the most likely trade bait. Hell, he almost brought the Lakers CP3!

Bynum's immaturity and inability to carry LA in big moments is alarming. However, Bynum is only 24, and he is considered the second best center in the NBA, trailing only Dwight Howard. I believe that Bynum will always be one play away from being hurt for the season. He surprisingly stayed healthy this season, despite the tough schedule. It will take at least another two years of health for me to believe that Bynum is durable. After seven years in the NBA, Bynum has come a long way, but who knows if he has peaked. The only guys to actually get better after their seventh NBA season are few and far between. The most recent example is Steve Nash. Nash actually won back to back MVP's in his tenth and eleventh seasons. With Bynum's injury history, his immaturity issues, and his disappearances in big moments, the Lakers may want to deeply consider moving him. Bynum will carry a lot more value on the trading block than Pau Gasol. Bynum's youth, coupled with another team's desire for a big man cornerstone, could lead to some great return value to LA.

Either way, one of them will be gone next year. I truly doubt Mike Brown is going to get another year with this tandem, which is a shame. Brown was a part of the Duncan/Robinson title in San Antonio in '03. He understands how to utilize twin towers. I believe that this truncated season truly robbed Brown of the ability to utilize the LA twin towers properly. With games every other day, Brown could not implement a creative offense due to a lack of practice time and a lack of training camp.

Then there is Kobe. Another year has gone by, and Kobe has added another NBA season on his odometer. His window for catching MJ's six rings is closing quickly. If LA doesn't win it all next year, Kobe will probably be stuck at five rings by the time he retires. Kobe's resurgence this year was great to see, but who knows how long his procedure from Germany will hold up. Kobe is truly the guinea pig of that operation. Athletes will watch Kobe closely to see how his body responds years down the road. Maybe he has found the fountain of youth. Maybe he just had another great season. Either way, Kobe is going to be a 34 year old shooting guard next season. Basketball is a young man's game. Let's see how long Kobe can battle Father Time.

As a whole, the Lakers could not live up to their title aspirations. At times they looked like they could beat anyone in the NBA, comfortably. At other times they lost to the Wizards, Pistons, and other bottom feeders. The Lakers should be able to come back strong next year if Bynum makes a conscious decision to give his all every single night. The sad thing is, no one knows if Bynum will respond with that effort.

LA threw away two games in this series and it cost them. OKC and San Antonio will be a fantastic matchup. Watch how San Antonio gets easy buckets on back door cuts and pick and rolls. I'm not sure if KD and Westbrook will be able to kill San Antonio with jumpers. Will KD and Westbrook be able to win more close games against the calmest team in the NBA? I'm not so sure. San Antonio won't implode down the stretch like LA. However, maybe it's OKC's year like it was for Dallas last year. Remember how Dallas pulled out clutch win after clutch win in the closing moments? OKC seems to be doing the same thing, with Durantula emulating Dirk.

LA and OKC flipped roles at the most pertinent of times. LA went 10-4 in games decided by three points or less in the regular season. In the playoffs LA went 1-3. On the other hand, OKC went 5-4 in the regular season, and 3-1 in the playoffs. Obviously, OKC has found something special in the playoffs. Let's see if it continues into the next round.

1 comment:

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