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Lakers Have a Good Game Plan for Celtics: Revenge

No one likes to lose. There isn’t a feeling that is quite as horrible as losing. You can’t forget losing — it stays with you. You wait for that chance to get your revenge and do everything in your power to make that happen. Well, the basketball gods have heard the wishes of Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers — they are going to get their chance at revenge against the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals.

The last time the Lakers and Celtics met in the NBA Finals was two years ago. Celtics fans made it hard for the Lakers to forget that they had lost. As the team sat on its bus, Celtics fans started shaking it and throwing rocks at it. There’s no question the rowdy Celtics fans are on the minds of the Lakers — just look at what Lamar Odom said:

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Jackson Tries to Squash Rumors, Still Leaves Future a Mystery

We all know by now that Phil Jackson is an absolute master of mind games.  Most will argue that it’s one of the main contributing factors to the success he’s had throughout his career.  The most likely scenario for Jackson’s future is that he either continues to coach the Lakers, or retires.  Last season, he told Magic Johnson that he had “one more year after this one with the Lakers.”  Even then, he chose to say “with the Lakers”, which doesn’t exactly close the door on the possibility him coaching another team.

With the LeBron James frenzy in full-force, rumors have run wild that Jackson may be interested in reuniting with the Chicago Bulls next season — one of LeBron’s most likely landing spots.  The chatter is even more intriguing when you consider the rumors that Jackson would have to take a 60% pay cut (he’s making $12 million this season) if he wants to continue to coach the Lakers for another season.  Last night, before LA’s Game 4 Western Conference Finals loss to the Phoenix Suns, Jackson remained emphatic that he is not interested in coaching the Bulls next season:

I have no, at all, desire to go back to Chicago and coach the Bulls.”

Sounds pretty direct, right?  Not exactly.  In order to press him further, a reporter came up with a clever request when he said, “You can end all this talk, any distraction and all these rumors — just say I’ll either be with the Lakers next year, or I’ll be home. Go ahead.”  Of course, the Zen Master couldn’t allow it to be that simple, and gave yet another open-ended response:

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Lakers Take Care of Business with Thrilling Road Win

One round into the 2010 NBA Playoffs, and the defending champs have already been tested.  After the Thunder took game four to tie the series 2-2, I wrote how the Lakers needed to take care of business at home in Game 5 if they wanted to avoid flirting with disaster heading back to Oklahoma City’s Ford Center for Game 6.  Well, Los Angeles did that both at home and on the road to seal the series and advance.  They beat the youthful and resilient Thunder 95-94 on a tip-in by Pau Gasol with a half-second remaining in Game 6.  The ball was in the hands of Kobe Bryant for the final shot — of course — who missed his jumper but was bailed out by Gasol who was there to clean up the glass.  The ending was a fitting one, as Gasol had dominated the boards all night with 18 rebounds.  In case you missed it, here’s the video of Pau Gasol’s tip-in that won the game and in turn series for LA, courtesy of YouTube via Guyism.

Despite losing, the Oklahoma City Thunder should have a ton of confidence in their team headed into next season.  They surprised the basketball world by even making the playoffs and doing well — really well — in the regular season.  Then, as an eight seed, they proceeded to give the defending NBA Champions a serious scare by showing they are one of the tougher teams in the league to play at home.  They have a great young core that starts with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, and if they can keep their current roster in tact there’s no reason to believe they can’t be a championship contender in a few years.

As a funny side note, here’s what Phil Jackson had to say following the game when asked why visiting teams seem vulnerable.

You have to remember these men are out there in their underwear, in their shorts. These aren’t like the old days but they are pretty scantily clad, and they are, you know, in front of their fans. If you’re at all self-conscious, there you are.”

Man, that guy’s weird.

Sources:
Lakers knock out Thunder on Gasol’s tip-in [AP via Yahoo! Sports]
Video Credit: Guyism

No Shortage of Confidence for Thunder

It’s no secret that the Thunder have enough talent to match up with the Lakers — especially when Kobe Bryant manages to score only 12 points on 5-of-10 from the floor.  My gut feeling is that the Lakers will still win the series, but if the Thunder do somehow pull off the upset, it will be simply because they have shown that they aren’t afraid of the defending world champions.  Well, that and the fact that Kevin Durant could be the MVP of the league — just ask Dwight Howard.

Oklahoma City dominated the Lakers on Saturday, with Durant and Russell Westbrook — possibly the best young tandem in the NBA — leading the way with a combined 40 points.  Having won both of their home games to even the series at 2-2, the Thunder have now put a tremendous amount of pressure on Los Angeles to take care of business at home in Game 5.  Otherwise, they’ll put themselves in a position where the Thunder can return home leading the series 3-2 with a chance to clinch in front of what has been an electrifying crowd at the Ford Center.

Even Ron Artest — arguably the best man-to-man defender in the league — is having trouble containing Kevin Durant, as evidenced by the way he blew by him on Saturday to stuff home a dunk that sent the Ford Center into a frenzy.  The Zen Master may have to try a bit harder to rattle the Thunder’s star forward if he wants to avoid a repeat of the 29-point 19-rebound performance Durant dropped on his squad on Friday night.

The Lakers are probably still the better team overall.  They’re the No. 1 seed for a reason.  They’ve been in this situation many times before.  They’re certainly more experienced and seasoned when it comes to playoff basketball.  If they end up unable to advance, it will be due in large part to the fact that they’ve run into the hungriest team in the NBA.

Sources:
Thunder even series with 110-89 win over Lakers [Yahoo! Sports]
Loud and Proud: Fans Bring the Thunder in Oklahoma City [Fanhouse]
Photo Credit: Getty Images

Lakers Underwhelmed During Finals, Magic Frustrated and Choked

I know exactly what people will say, a championship’s a championship and you can’t knock that. I’m not even one of the people that complained about the Lakers going seven with the Rockets who were seemingly decimated by injuries — winning is winning, end of story. But here’s where I’m left unsatisfied by the 2009 NBA Finals: It was hard watching the Magic choke away two victories in hand and thinking the Lakers beat them those games, and it’s hard seeing Kobe Bryant win the NBA Finals MVP award for the first time ever when he wasn’t playing his best basketball.

The history books write the story and the 15 total championships, 10 rings for Phil, and four each for Derek Fisher and Kobe will be mostly what everyone remembers. But when I look back on the Finals, I’ll think of the Courtney Lee missed layup, the Dwight Howard missed free throws, and the poor strategy of letting Fisher shoot the three in Game 4. Orlando literally gave two games away when they should have been up 3-1. They talked about not just “being happy to be here” and they weren’t — they were in position to seize the series and they choked it away. Still, in order for a choke to occur, someone has to step up to get the wins and the Lakers did that (Gasol in both OTs and Fisher’s big shots in Game 4).

Who knows if the Lakers will be back — they’ll need a new point guard, a new coach, and either a replacement for Lamar Odom or Trevor Ariza in all likelihood. The Magic seem willing to re-sign Hedo Turkoglu, but he might find more enticing offers elsewhere. Denver will have another year together, Boston will get KG back, Cleveland could get Shaq, the Rockets might be healthier and tougher, and most of the playoff teams will be hungrier. It won’t be easy for either LA or Orlando to get back to the Finals again. That’s why what the Lakers accomplished seemed almost fated; if it wasn’t this year, then when? For the Magic, the answer isn’t as simple. They’ll have Dwight Howard who’s one of the most dominant players in the game, but they’ll have stiff competition in the Eastern Conference for years to come. They just pissed away a brilliant opportunity.

Lakers Should Pay for Parade, Not City

After the Lakers took a 2-0 series lead, the city of Los Angeles already began making plans for a championship parade celebration. There was a question whether or not the city could afford to put on a parade given the current economic issues facing the city (translation: the state going bankrupt). In the end, the team and the city agreed to each pay about a million dollars for the parade which includes the expense of renting out the LA Coliseum, and paying for several city workers to guard and clean up. The Police Protective League thinks what the city is doing is absurd:

“At a time of financial crisis, when the public expects, and quite frankly should demand city leaders to be good stewards of every tax dollar, it is foolish for elected officials to favor spending 1 million tax dollars on a three-hour parade,” league President Paul M. Weber said in a prepared statement Sunday.

Considering I have friends and family whose jobs and paychecks have been threatened because of a lack of funding, I think it’s ridiculous that the city is going to cobble together the money for this. This is a time when the team needs to step up and give back to the fans in one of the best ways possible, at a time when it’s most needed. Why not have the players kick in some bucks to make up the difference? They certainly can afford it. I know one thing — the city sure can’t. This is just like execs from GM buying luxury private jets when the company’s requesting government funds. It’s ludicrous, preposterous, ridiculous! (but worth it if they bring back Mark Madsen for the festivities).

Phil Jackson Tweaked by T.J. Simers, Drops F-Bomb in Post Game Conference

Ahh, the perils of live television! ESPN and ESPNEWS got burned Sunday when they chose to run Phil Jackson’s post game news conference live following Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals series between the Lakers and Rockets.

Bothered by the notoriously fearless and often times disrespectful T.J. Simers, who asked if the Lakers were embarrassed by their loss to the Yao Ming-less Rockets, Jackson offered up this:

“Are we embarrassed?” Phil asked rhetorically. “No, we’re not embarrassed. No, Houston played a great game. Give them some f—ing credit. For real. This kid (Aaron) Brooks played great tonight. They played well.”

I agree with Phil here — sometimes a team losing isn’t because of what they did wrong but because of what the other team did right. That’s what happened with Houston. They were fired up, hot early in the game, and they held the lead. Aaron freakin Brooks had a career game with 34 points! Sometimes you can’t just criticize a team for losing but you need to credit the opposition for doing things well — that was the case on Sunday.

The nutter butters and harvey bars at Tirico Suave have the uncensored Phil Jackson cussing video if you’re interested.