Lopsidedness of Round 2 is a product of poor matchups

What a miserable second round for David Stern and the NBA.

After a fairly competitive Round 1 of the 2010 NBA playoffs, Round 2 has been a bit of a rout.

In the postseason’s inaugural round, five of the eight series went to six games, including Milwaukee-Atlanta, which went to eight. The only games that went five or fewer were Boston-Miami, Cleveland-Chicago, and Orlando-Charlotte (four games), all of which fans and experts expected to be fairly mundane sets.

And there was a lot of excitement, too. The Thunder gave the Lakers a scare, instilling hopes of basketball viewers nationwide that a young, upstart team led by Kevin Durant might be able to knock off the defending champions in the round of 16. Even though Oklahoma City came up short in that regard, everyone sees the Ford Center as the toughest place to play a road game in professional basketball.

There was the thrill of the Bucks’ running the favored Hawks all the way to seven games, even though everyone had written them off in the shadow of Andrew Bogut’s gruesome season-ending arm injury. And the series displayed rookie Brandon Jennings to the world, who didn’t get much consideration for the first-year players’ top award despite being the only serious contender to lead his team to the postseason.

There was San Antonio, which knocked off Dallas in six games to no one’s surprise — in spite of being a No. 7 seed facing a No. 2. It was disappointment again for the Mavericks, who loaded up last offeseason and at the trade deadline to make a push for a title in what many expected would be their last serious shot.

And Phoenix knocked off a banged-up Portland team behind the inspired play of a rejuvenated Steve Nash to square off with their familiar foes in Round 2. Utah stopped Denver from reacquainting itself with last year’s playoff dismisser.

So far in the second round, the play has been entirely lopsided and devoid of drama. Orlando leads Atlanta 3-0, and each of the games has been a laugher. Los Angeles leads Utah 3-0, as the team’s height has intimidatingly towered over Utah’s forwards for a quick lead in the series. And Phoenix has run out to a 3-0 lead, too, and it seems the speed and shooting of this Suns squad will finally get the better of the slow-pace, fundamentally sound Spurs after years and years of postseason abuse in the other direction this decade.

The playoffs are supposed to get more exciting, not more boring, as the rounds progress. So this year, what gives?

It has been a problem of matchups.

The Suns-Spurs series is cursed this year with a staunch difference in the offensive paces of both teams. Phoenix tries to score as soon as possible, jacking up threes indiscriminately and perfecting the pick-and-roll with Nash and Amar’e Stoudemire. San Antonio prefers to lull its opponents into a malaise and then utilize flawless fundamentals to score with relative efficiency. And they play great defense, of course.

In the past, this collision of the unstoppable force and the immovable object has made for great, tense basketball. This year, however, as San Antonio is another year older, the Suns’ pace is finally getting the best of the Old Guard, and they’re running the Spurs out of the building. It also doesn’t hurt that the Suns have shown a completely unexpected commitment to defense this year, as well.

In the case of the Lakers-Jazz, the matchup problem is well-documented. Carlos Boozer and Paul Millsap simply cannot contend with the height of Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol, and Lamar Odom. I’ve written about this before, so see that post for further details.

Lastly, the Orland0-Atlanta series has amounted to little more than a joke. The Magic’s margins of victory have been astronomically high, and the problem comes with the incompatibility of the offense, which I, too, have mentioned.

Hopefully, after this farce of a round is finished, we’ll see some more interesting play in the conference finals.

For now, though, I have to slog through a few more meaningless, monotone games to tide myself over.

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Jazz lack height to match up with Lakers

Pau Gasol has repeatedly gotten the better of Carlos Boozer in this series.

After Game 1 of the Jazz-Lakers series, Utah played like it had a chance to win the series against the defending champions. After Game 2, I’m more resigned to the fact that Utah is dramatically outmatched.

As I mentioned in my previous post about the series, the Jazz nearly came away with the win in Game 1, but shaky defense down the stretch game the Lakers a decisive win. In the second contest, the Jazz’s flaws were more evident. And it starts and ends with the front-court play.

Los Angeles features two seven-foot front-court players in Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. The sixth man off the bench, Lamar Odom, is a versatile 6’10″. On the contrary, the two best paint players for Utah — Carlos Boozer and Paul Millsap — are both 6’9″. With Mehmet Okur out for the remainder of the season, the Jazz must resort to giving heavy minutes to Kyrylo Fesenko and Kosta Koufos at center, who are lacking in talent, to be blunt.

So what’s the result when you pit your two 6’9″ quality big men and seven-foot bench warmers against Gasol, Bynum, Odom? Chaos and embarrassment.

In Game 2, the one true offensive bright spot for Utah was Millsap: 26 points, 11 boards, 4 assists, and 3 steals on 10-17 shooting. Boozer added 20 point and 12 rebounds, but he shot a mediocre 9-21.

Fesenko and Koufos combined to score 4 points on 2-9 shooting and grab 3 rebounds. To say the least, that’s not going to cut it.

These stats don’t tell the whole story. Further accentuating the shortcomings of Utah’s front-court production is the fact that the Lakers mustered 13 blocks in Game 2, and 9 of those came thanks to Gasol, Bynum, and Odom.

Further, still, is Utah’s inability to defend in the paint.

Gasol put up 22 points on 7-11 shooting and secured 5 offensive rebounds. Bynum added 17 points on a very solid 7-9 shooting performance. He also grabbed 14 rebounds (13 of which came in the first half), including 4 on the offensive glass. Finally, Odom put up 11 points on perfect 4-4 shooting and a whopping 15 boards (4 of which came on offense).

Clearly, Boozer and Millsap give up too much height to contend with the Lakers’ bigs near the basket. Fesenko and Koufos just aren’t good enough. Honestly, Utah can kiss this series goodbye if it continues to let the Lakers absolutely own the offensive glass and shoot such high percentages.

Kobe Bryant’s 30 points (10-22 FG, 10-11 FT), 5 rebounds, 8 assists, and 3 blocks are the least of the Jazz’s worries as the series heads to Utah. With Andrei Kirilenko’s return, Kobe’s damage can be mitigated. It will take some creative thinking on Jerry Sloan’s part, however, to quell the onslaught of the Lakers big men for the rest of the series.

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Jazz defense falters as Lakers take Game 1

Kobe Bryant made the Jazz defense look like Golden State's in the fourth quarter of Sunday's Game 1.

It takes a nearly perfect effort to beat the Lakers. And if that effort isn’t quite perfect, it’s best not to let those slight imperfections manifest themselves at the end of the fourth quarter.

But that is what Utah did Sunday, surrendering a very winnable Game 1 to the defending champions 104-99 in which it had a lead with as little as 3:16 left to play in the final period.

Despite permitting the Lakers to shoot 53 percent from the field for the game, the Jazz played admirable defense. Los Angeles shot just 2-16 from three-point range, and Utah allowed the Lakers to score only one point in the first six minutes of the fourth quarter as the Jazz crawled their way to a lead from an eight-point deficit.

Then, at the 3:16 mark, it all went downhill. Coach Jerry Sloan assigned small forward C.J. Miles to guard Kobe Bryant one-on-one, and the Lakers isolated the entire left side of the court for Kobe to take Miles on his own.

Kobe began to back him down, and as he forced him back to the left elbow, Miles reacted to a push by flopping over in an attempt to take a charge. As a result, Kobe had an open lane for a jump shot, and the late rotation for the contest resulted in Kobe’s and-one conversion.

Thereafter, Sloan elected to have the stronger Wesley Matthews take Kobe on defense. With about 55 seconds left in the game and the Lakers up one, Matthews successfully defended Bryant and forced him into a fall-away turnaround jumper from 14 feet. The shot missed, but Carlos Boozer failed to block out Lamar Odom, who corralled the offensive board and put it back up for the easy layup.

Lastly, with about 24 seconds left to play, Matthews was guarding Kobe one-on-one by the logo; the other four Jazz players were standing near the four corners of the lane. Kobe drove, and Matthews went for the strip — so he was beat. Then, in a display of some of the most regrettable defense of all time, Kobe sliced directly down the middle of the lane, without so much as a glance from one of the Jazz players, for an easy layup.

It was one of the easiest dagger shots I’ve ever seen in an NBA game, as it put the Lakers up five with minimal time on the clock.

Utah will have to give a fuller effort in the next several games if it hopes to knock off LA. Forgetting to box out and trying for a strip on Kobe when he’s running at full speed from center court are incredibly unwise decisions.

By the way, C.J. Miles, a referee will never call that offensive foul on Kobe, regardless of how much of a foul it was, at that juncture of the game. And it’s just not smart to flop like that with no one to help on defense behind you.

Hopefully when Andrei Kirilenko returns to the Jazz (supposedly in Game 3), these defensive miscues will fade away.

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Expectation Series: Part 3 (Most Disappointing Players)

Over the next four days, I’ll be writing on what I call my Expectation Series — a four-part set of rankings for the following: most disappointing teams, most surprising teams, most disappointing players, and most surprising players.

As much as that facial fracture must have hurt, Turkoglu's performance this season is what he should be drying his eyes about.

So far I’ve reviewed the bests and the worsts of the alarming teams from this season. But it’s important, too, that I take a look at the individual productions that have crippled team’s performances. While these teams have had marginal success despite unsatisfactory efforts by key players, their underperformance may play an appreciable role come playoff time. With that, here’s my top-five disappointing players.

No. 5 — Ron Artest

Ron Artest has experienced a significant reduction in his offensive output. In fact, he has lost six points off his per-game scoring average. That said, he’s also taking six fewer shots a game. And, to be honest, it’s reasonable. Going from the second offensive option in Houston behind Yao Ming (excluding Tracy McGrady, who missed most of the season with injuries) to the fourth (or fifth, if you prioritize Lamar Odom off the bench) option on a stacked Lakers team is a legitimate justification for putting up fewer shots. However, his offense isn’t the problem.

Artest has long been known as one of the premiere perimeter defenders in entire league. Unfortunately, his effort on that end of the ball has not been there as much this season, and he’s starting to lose his reputation. Opposing small forwards are no longer wetting their pants in anticipation of being matched up with Ron Artest. Chalk it up to his age or just his unwillingness to play as hard as part of a much more talented roster than he’s ever seen, but he’s not doing what Mitch Kupchak brought him in to do. Perhaps keeping Trevor Ariza would have been the better play for L.A. At least they haven’t had to deal with any of his attitudinal issues, though.

No. 4 — Richard Jefferson

When I wrote about the Spurs a few days ago, I mentioned that the acquisition of Jefferson hadn’t really panned out for the team as they expected. He has lost over seven points a game compared to last year in Milwaukee. While he, too, experienced a downgrade in offensive priority, his case is more troubling than Artest’s. He isn’t known as a defensive standout, so it is his responsibility to get on the scoreboard to help his team win. With the various injuries San Antonio has had, it is imperative that RJ increase his offensive output for the playoffs to keep them alive.

No. 3 — Josh Howard

What an awful year for a player that was well above average in the league. Howard is scoring nearly six fewer points a game this season, and he is shooting only 40 percent from the field and a staggeringly low 27 percent from long range; this inability to score has led to nearly a five-point drop in PER from last year. His failure to contribute on the hard wood coupled with his off-the-court issues and attitude problems led to his midseason ouster from Dallas to the Wizards in exchange for Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood. Now he is stuck on the Wizards, and they’re going nowhere fast. He has a potential out with an $11.8 million team option for 2010-2011, and I have to assume Washington will not exercise it given his horrid play this season. Let’s hope he can reestablish his name somewhere else next season for a lower sum of money he actually deserves.

No. 2 — Rasheed Wallace

If you want to talk about a bad influence, look no further. Well, actually, you should look further. Go read Bill Simmons’s column on the infectious Wallace and how badly he has hindered the Celtics this season. The big man who was supposed to be the boost to get the Celtics one more ring in the Big Three era has utterly failed to do so. Sheed is scoring only nine points a game on 40 percent shooting and ghastly 28 percent from three-point territory. The one bright spot? Coach Doc Rivers has realized he should only play the guy about 20 minutes a game to avoid total annihilation. But Sheed’s parasitic effect goes beyond his horrible shot selection and lack of scoring. He’s completely unathletic at this point, limiting his once stellar defense. He’s incredibly insubordinate. He can’t control his temper, which may cost the Celtics valuable points off leads from technical free throws in the playoffs. Rasheed Wallace has done exactly the opposite of what the team brought him in to do. And to think: I wanted Doc to start him over Kendrick Perkins at center before the season started.

No. 1 — Hedo Turkoglu

Hedo Turkoglu trumps the rest because of the way he will siphon the Raptors’ money for the next four (maybe five) seasons undeservedly so. He is guaranteed $41 million over the next four years, and he as a $12 million player option for a fifth year in Toronto. Quite frankly, that money would be better spent researching ways to bring Wilt Chamberlain back from the dead and forcing him to play for the team. It’s evident Hedo turned on his game in his final years in Orlando to net a good contract, and now that he is financially secure, he doesn’t give a damn anymore. He has lost five points off his per-game scoring rate from an also-subpar 2009-2010 season, and he no longer hits big shots at the end of games — his trademark quality in the playoffs in Orlando, where they had no other big-shot guy. It goes to show how a a tapped crop of free agents like the one prior to this season can really screw teams over when they have to overpay players like Turkoglu to hope to be competitive.

Look back tomorrow for the five most positive individual surprises of the season.

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Game of the Day: April 8

Los Angeles Lakers at Denver Nuggets — 10:30 PM eastern, telecast on TNT

Tonight features a great matchup between the first-place Los Angeles Lakers and the second-place (well, tied for it, anyway) Denver Nuggets.

Just seeing these two teams on the schedule brings back memories of their physical — oh, so physical — series in the Western Conference finals last year. And I expect to see nothing less exciting tonight, even though some of the most aggressive competitors in Andrew Bynum and Kenyon Martin will be out with their respective injuries.

Regardless, Kobe Bryant will have to deal with the powerful Aaron Afflalo, and Carmelo Anthony and Ron Artest will be pushing each other all night. Here I go about to make another immovable object/unstoppable force analogy, but it deserves to be mentioned here. Anthony is the best post-up 3 in the game, and many consider Artest “unpostable.” That should be incredibly fun to watch.

Up front, Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol will have to deal with Nene and Johan Petro, not to mention the unpredictably energetic Chris “Birdman” Andersen off the bench.

Chauncey Billups should do his thing against Derek Fisher, who can’t hope to contain Mr. Big Shot. Furthermore, look for J.R. Smith to get his fair share of minutes to take advantage of Kobe’s patented down-the-stretch-only defensive effort.

Combine these factors with the Lakers’ subpar play of late and the Nuggets’ being at home, and I have no choice but to give this one to the Nuggets. I can’t wait to see what transpires. My other prediction? At least two technical fouls in the game that aren’t defensive three seconds.

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Game of the Day: April 2

Utah Jazz at Los Angeles Lakers — 10:30 PM eastern, telecast on ESPN

After their unfortunate road trip, the Lakers return  home to hopefully get back to their winning ways. Unfortunately, joining them at the Staples Center will be Deron Williams, one of those quick guards who have a field day against Derek Fisher and the gang.

Add the fact that the Jazz are playing some amazing basketball and have tied Dallas for the No. 2 seed in the West, and this fixes to be a fantastic contest.

This will be the final game of the teams’ season series, and the Lakers won all three of the previous matchups by an average of about 16 points.

That said, Andrew Bynum played in those games, and he exposes a weakness in Utah’s lineup — a lack of a tall post defender. With Bynum out because of injury, they’ll still have to deal with Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom, but it’s just not the same animal.

Nevertheless, I like the Lakers to win. They’ll be too anxious to break out of the funk they experienced on the road and to prove that they the Western Conference is still their stomping grounds in front of the anxious home crowd. Accordingly, expect Kobe to do more than his usual share of the scoring to assure they come away with the win.

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Hating on the Lakers: Do they deserve it?

The Lakers are struggling a bit of late. But does that mean they deserve to be counted out?

As a Yankee fan, I’m certainly accustomed to having everyone around me hate my team because of its immense success. In that regard, the Lakers stand out as the NBA’s Yankees. Competitive every year, they win because they have assembled a roster with no intention of staying anywhere near the salary cap. And believe me: Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Sasha Vujacic are among my least favorite players in the entire league.

Right now, having lost three games on the road in the past week to the Hawks, Hornets, and Thunder, the Lakers are under intense scrutiny. Many analysts are starting to doubt whether it’s a championship-caliber team anymore. The team that was the slam-dunk favorite from the Western conference (and to win the title) at the beginning of the season is now, according to the media, incredibly vulnerable.

Despite my disdain for the bearers of purple and gold, I’d like to quell some of the suggestions that the Lakers don’t have what it takes to make the NBA finals anymore.

It’s true — the Lakers are not as good on the road as they are within the friendly confines of the Staples Center. In fact, they are 32-5 in Los Angeles and only 22-16 away from home. That’s been clear for most of the year. However, so much emphasis is being placed on specifically the most recent road-trip defeats, and it shouldn’t be all that important. After all, those three losses are their only ones in their last ten contests.

The Lakers’ schedule was frontloaded with home games, so as they won again and again at the beginning of the season (playing many more games at home) people started to take notice — their immaculate play in November and December must indicate that they’re destined to repeat, right? The Lakers are definitely good, but they got overhyped because of all their home games. Now that they lose a few on the road, it’s such a stark difference from what fans saw earlier that it’s shocking and causes panic. But they should be expected to lose more games during the toughest parts of their schedule.

It draws a parallel for me to the BCS and college football. A top team loses a game in the early part of the season, and no one really worries all that much about it; more importantly, its ranking isn’t affected all that dramatically. Lose a game at the end of the season, though, and the ranking pundits castigate the team much more brutally. That’s what the Lakers are experiencing here.

I understand that it may appear to be setting up a trend for them to be losing on the road, but consider the specifics of this most recent road trip for the Lakers. Two of the three teams they lost to will be in the playoffs and will probably advance past the first round. The third is New Orleans with Chris Paul back. Let me tell you: the Hornets would have a much more impressive record if Paul had been healthy all year (even though Darren Collison is filling in better than he could have been expected to). And the Lakers have a well-known weakness to quick point guards like Paul whether they’re playing in Los Angeles, in New Orleans, in Cleveland, or on Mars. It’s not all that surprising Paul tore them up.

Moreover, they’re missing Andrew Bynum and Luke Walton. Let me be completely blunt: with Bynum out with injuries, Lamar Odom is forced to start in Pau Gasol’s place who slides to the center to fill in with Bynum — they lose a negligible amount of production from the starting five. However, take Odom off the Lakers’ bench and it is probably the worst set of reserves in the entire NBA. Jordan Farmar? OK. But the rest of them belong in the D-League if you ask me.

With respect to the playoffs, both those guys should be back and healthy. Furthermore, if the Lakers hold on to the top spot in the conference (which seems highly likely) they’ll have home-court advantage for every round prior to the NBA Finals. They won’t necessarily have to win on the road. And if you think they’ll get swept as the guests by any of the teams they face anyway, you’re mistaken.

So have faith, Lakers fans. And continue to hate, non-Lakers fans. They’re absolutely not throwing in the cards yet. A few losses on the road won’t discourage them, so they shouldn’t discourage anyone else.

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Who can challenge the Lakers?

Stopping LA doesn't mean just stopping Kobe. You'll have the limit these guys, too.

The common assumption this season among NBA analysts and fans is that the Lakers have the Western Conference locked up; their starting lineup is too talented and balanced for any opponent to contend with. That assumption is certainly not baseless. The Lakers post one of the best front courts in the league with Ron Artest, Andrew Bynum, and Pau Gasol, and Lamar Odom off the bench. Of course, they have arguably the second-best player in the league, the Black Mamba, at the 2, who has the hardware to show he has done it well into June before. Nevertheless, the Lakers do have 18 losses this season — so they can be beaten. Here I’ll run down what factors are necessary to defeat the reigning NBA champions in a seven-game series come playoff time.

Stopping number 24

To beat the Lakers, you need to get a handle on Bryant. If he goes off, the rest of the team is too reliable that there’s very little chance you’ll get a win. Accordingly, Kobe cannot get open shots — if he’s hitting heavily contested 20-foot jumpers, there isn’t much you can do, but giving him easy layups and wide-open shots will lead to a 20-point deficit on the scoreboard in a hurry. So which teams from the West have a defender that can have some chance at containing the Lakers’ star?

  • Houston Rockets, Shane Battier/Trevor Ariza: Last year in the Western Conference semifinals, the Rockets (without Yao for most of the series) played better against L.A. than most teams expected them to. One of the primary reasons for that was the team’s defense on Kobe. Battier drew the assignment most of the time, but Artest got some minutes on him, too. Despite Bryant’s arrogant mouthing of “You can’t guard me” in Battier’s direction after hitting an admittedly difficult shot, Battier did a hell of a job. He limited Kobe’s shooting percentages and made him give up the ball to his teammates more than he likes to. If the Rockets make the playoffs and see the Lakers, expect an equal effort from Shane.
  • Dallas Mavericks, Caron Butler: The Mavericks propelled themselves to elite status in the league with their deadline deal that brought in Butler and Brandon Haywood. Butler has always been a talented defender who draws comparisons to Artest on that end because of his toughness and grit — two things that frustrate #24. Furthermore, Butler’s equal skill on the offensive end will require more attention that Battier’s, making Kobe work harder than he wants to and tiring him out.
  • Oklahoma City, Kevin Durant: You probably weren’t expecting this. But if the Thunder, who seem playoff-bound, draw the Lakers in their first title run in the new location, expect Durant to crave that defensive assignment. He’s not really known as a premiere defensive stopper, but he has the speed to stay with Kobe and, more importantly, the absurd length to bother his shots. They have Thabo Sefolosha, too, who’s near the top of the league in defensive rating.

Taking advantage of the Lakers’ poor bench

No one really seems to notice this, but beyond Odom, the Lakers’ bench is subpar. Shannon Brown has shown some promise, and played well down the stretch last year, but Jordan Farmar is having a down year, and the rest of them are questionable Association players. Consequently, opponents need to take advantage of the few minutes in which the Lakers’ weak points are exposed; they need to dominate during second-unit play.

  • Phoenix Suns: The Suns play fast, so they give a lot of minutes to non-starters, which makes them better conditioned for playoff games. Leandro Barbosa is filthy quick, and quick guards give the Lakers trouble (which I’ll get to later). Goran Dragic, Steve Nash’s backup, is a better distributor than he gets credit for. Up front, they feature Louis Amundson off the bench, a high-effort Varejao-type player, and Channing Frye, a sharpshooting center with whom no player on L.A. can really match up.
  • Dallas Mavericks: I think the Mavericks may be a theme here. Dallas boasts a wealth of talent on the bench. At guard, J.J. Barea plays way better than his size indicates. Rodrigue Beaubois is a rookie but has shown he can score at the NBA level. DeShaun Stevenson, too, can score. And everyone knows what Jason Terry is capable of. Up front, they have Erick Dampier, a defensive stalwart who can guard both Bynum and Gasol.

Matching up in the low post

Gasol, Bynum, and Odom are a huge part of the Lakers’ success. Teams that hope to defeat L.A. need to account for that and have good strength and size up front to defend these players, so they have to rely on Kobe more.

  • Denver Nuggets: The Nuggets gave the Lakers their biggest test in the playoffs last season, and everyone was talking about their toughness and physicality. Nene, Kenyon Martin, and the Birdman Chris Andersen did a great job of slowing down Gasol, Bynum and Odom. With all three of them back this year, expect a similar result.
  • Dallas Mavericks: Sure, Dirk’s a cream puff. But with Brandon Haywood in town now, and Dampier available on the bench, the Mavs have two of the elite post defenders on their squad.

Quick point guard play

One of the central weaknesses of the Lakers’ help-reliant defense is a quick point guard who can get in the lane and take advantage of the Lakers’ starting lineup’s weak link — the aging Derek Fisher.

  • Phoenix Suns: Have you all heard of Steve Nash? Dude gives L.A. trouble every time he faces them.
  • Utah Jazz: Deron Williams, one of the league’s top point guards anyway, should be able to run rampant against Fisher.
  • Denver Nuggets: Chauncey Billups, Mr. Big Shot, does it every year in the playoffs. 2010 should be no different.
  • Oklahoma City Thunder: Russell Westbrook has the speed and athleticism to torch Fisher and the distribution skills to find Durant and Jeff Green for easy baskets when the help comes.
  • San Antonio Spurs: Tony Parker is one of the best at driving the lane and getting layups.

Even with all these things, beating the Lakers is still a crapshoot. You need to do absolutely everything right. Nevertheless, the Rockets and Nuggets proved it is possible last year. Going by these criteria, it looks like Dallas has the best shot. In all these categories, I didn’t even get to mention Jason Kidd — one of the biggest parts of their team. He’s running out of years in the NBA and craving a title after he came so close twice in a row in New Jersey. Wouldn’t it be great for him to get revenge on Kobe and the Lakers after their 4-0 thrashing of the Nets in 2002?

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