NBA Playoff Predictions: Are the Lakers still the favorites to win the NBA Championship?
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The Los Angeles Lakers were easily the odds on favorite to win the NBA Championship this season.
For starters, they were the best team at the end of the year last year. In the NBA, one of the most consistent and predictable leagues in all of professional sports, it’s very rare that the best team from last year isn’t automatically considered the favorite the next year.
And lastly, despite being the reigning champs with the best player in the game, the Los Angeles Lakers also managed to sign Ron Artest, a player that is highly regarded as a premiere defender and has the ability to score 20 points on any given night.
And yet, here we are, with the Lakers in first place, and yet I can honestly say that they are not the favorites to win the NBA Championship.
You know that question they always ask on Pardon the Interruption when it comes to Tiger Woods?
No! Not how many girlfriends does he have?!
Tony and Wilbon always ask the question, “Would you take Tiger Woods or the field?”
Well, I’m asking that of you, right now? When it comes to the NBA Championship, who would you take, the Lakers or the field?
Coming into the season, given the acquisition of Ron Artest, I would have easily taken the Lakers. However, after the Cleveland Cavaliers acquisition of Antawn Jamison, I might have been tempted to go with the field. But now, as the Lakers have lost three games in a row, are 13-8 since the All-Star Break, and no longer have the best point differential in the West after being above and beyond the league just two months ago, I have to unequivocally take the field.
The Lakers have just fallen a part. Blame it on the injuries to Kobe. Blame it on the injuries to Andrew Bynum. Blame on the misuse of Ron Artest, or the subsequent misuse (or lack of consistency) of Lamar Odom. Blame it on whatever, but the Lakers aren’t good.
So what happened?
First, the Derek Fisher thing just isn’t working out. I remember listening to a radio interview of the Lakers GM before last year’s postseason was even over. And even then, he specifically pointed to the point guard position as a point of interest for the off-season. However, the Lakers neglected that point, and now Fisher gets driven on like the drive-thru at McDonalds and he hardly negates any of it with his 37% shooting from the field. It was foolish of the Lakers to neglect that point, especially when they had the audacity to go out and improve at a position they didn’t need to improve at.
Which brings me to my next point.
I’m all for Ron Artest, and I’m all for upgrading your team ate every position that you can. But it’s clear that Artest isn’t working out in this offense. That’s not to say he’s the reason the Lakers aren’t playing up to their standards, but the fluidity of the offense just isn’t there, which is perhaps why the Lakers rank just 11th in offensive efficiency after ranking 3rd just a season ago. I’m not blaming Artest for this though. The Lakers should have asked themselves whether they were willing to fully incorporate Artest’s best traits into this offense before they signed. Clearly they want to use him as a side piece who shoots threes, and that isn’t working. I’ll retract a little bit though, as Artest did shoot 40% from behind the arc last season, and now he’s making just 36% of his shots. Still, that’s not that far of a drop, and the real problem is that Artest sometimes looks like he has no idea what he’s doing on the offensive end.
Of course, the biggest problem with the Lakers isn’t their supporting cast, it’s the main attraction. Kobe Bryant isn’t playing as well as he played last season. Forget the buzzer beaters and heroics with the bad finger and hobbled ankle. The buzzer beaters are just good timing. The bad finger wasn’t a deciding issue last season. And what NBA player doesn’t turn an ankle or two during the season?
All of Kobe’s stats (per 36 minutes) are down this season!
All of them!
Okay, except one. He steals the ball 1.5 times per 36 minutes just like he last year.
However, when it comes to shooting percentage, 3-point shooting, foul shooting, points, free throw attempts, rebounds (offensive and defensive) and blocks, Kobe’s numbers are all down. Unfortunately, the only numbers that are up are his turnovers and his personal fouls.
Granted, he’s not down significantly in all of those numbers, but if you were to tell me before the season that Kobe would get even 5% worse statistically this season, I (once again) would have taken the field instead of the Lakers to win it all.
To put it simply, if the Lakers are going to win it all, it has to be because Kobe Bryant stepped his game up in the postseason. It’s not happening for him right now, and it shows. So far, this is Kobe’s least efficient season since the 1999-2000, injury-shortened season, when Kobe was just 21 years old. While the Lakers may have won a championship that season despite Kobe maintaining a Player Efficiency Rating of 21.7, that’s not going to fly in 2010. Because right now, Kobe has Pau Gasol as his wingman. Back then, Kobe had a guy—well to put it simply, he had a guy he just couldn’t win without for quite a while, and a guy he may not win without outside of that one time unless he steps his game up this postseason and carries this lackluster group of Lakers to the promise land.
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