Thursday, June 5, 2008

In Kobe He Trusts

WWOD? Talks the Finals with a Lakers Fan

With the New York Knickerbockers dispersed to the four corners of the Tri-State Area, alternately preparing for next season and doing disreputable things with disreputable people, I can really only enjoy this incarnation of the NBA Finals in three ways: I can enjoy the purity of the competition, I can gamble and I can live vicariously through my friends who are fans of the two teams involved. To start, I've asked a few questions of one of my good friends who is a die-hard Los Angeles Lakers fan. For the sake of his privacy, to make fun of a band he swears is pretty good and just because it seems like it makes sense for LA, I'll be referring to him as Panek at the Disco for the duration of this interview. Mr Disco is the best professional chef I know and has been a Lakers fan since when he still would have introduced Magic to his sister.

WWOD?:Are you surprised that Lakers are in the Finals?
Panek at the Disco: If you would've told me in the beginning of the season, in October, that the Lakers would be in the Finals I would have laughed in your face. From the point that the playoffs started? No, I'm not surprised. But I thought there would have been more Game 7's along the way.

WWOD?: Why are they here?
Panek at the Disco Home court advantage is number 1. And Kobe Bryant.

WWOD?: Jack Nicholson. Blessing or Curse?
Panek at the Disco: Blessing.

WWOD?: Describe Jack in seven words or less.
Panek at the Disco: He's a staple of the team, man, a true fan. It wouldn't be the same without him. Take away all the shit -- he's an actor and he's big time -- I think he's a die hard fan.


WWOD?:Who is the most important player for the Lakers in this series?
Panek at the Disco: Lamar Odom. I'm guessing he's going to be matched up on
Pierce.

WWOD?: Who is the Laker most likely to disappoint?
Panek at the Disco: Luke Walton (P@D's favorite Laker, by the way) for missing big shots and making bad turnovers.

WWOD?: Given the fact that guys like Paxson and Horry tend to hit the biggest shots in any given series, who is the non-Kobe player to hit the big shot for the Lakers?
Panek at the Disco: Sasha Vujacic. The team has confidence in him and I expect him to hit big shots.

WWOD?:How would you set the defensive assignments?
Panek at the Disco: Odom on Pierce. Kobe on Allen. Fisher on Rondo. Gasol on Garnett. Radmonovic or Turiaf on Perkins.

WWOD?:How would you defend Kobe Bryant?
Panek at the Disco: You got to double-team. You double-team. But that's when the Lakers kill, when they're hitting their shots.

WWOD?:So, you don't buy into the whole "let Kobe get his" philosophy which says you leave him alone with Ray Allen?
Panek at the Disco: I just don't see how that'll work right now, the way he's playing. How many times has he taken over the game and won it in the playoffs?

WWOD?: What advantage do the Lakers have over the Celtics?
Panek at the Disco: The way Kobe makes them better. [He laughs and laughs and then I laugh and then we both laugh] It's the bench, with Vujacic and Walton.

WWOD?: What advantage do the Celtics have over the Lakers?
Panek at the Disco: Um, I'm really afraid of Garnett. I don't think Gasol can guard him. The Lakers don't have anyone to match up with him.

WWOD?: Alright, what's your prediction?
Panek at the Disco: I'm going to say the Lakers win because I'm really confident that they're gonna. But, I'm not sure about six [games] or seven. I'll say seven.

WWOD?: Who will be the Finals MVP?
Panek at the Disco: I hate saying it, but it's got to be Kobe.

WWOD?: There's been a lot of talk about how if Kobe wins this then he validates himself in some way. Would a title this year make up for shipping off Shaq and breaking up that team?
Panek at the Disco: No way. He can't make up for that so easily. I think that team would have won at least three more championships. I know that team lost to the Pistons in 2004, and it was a huge upset, but they would have won more. I think at least three more titles.

WWOD?: Does it bother you that the Lakers are playing this series against Bill Russell and Larry Bird, against whom they are 2-8 in the Finals?
Panek at the Disco: Yeah, it seems like every sportscaster is bringing this back to past series. It don't matter, though.

WWOD?:If the Lakers were to win this series in seven games like you say and Kobe were to go out and, I don't know, rape someone in the celebration could you hold it against him?
Panek at the Disco: Nah, he's on my team, man.

BallHype: hype it up!

TALE OF THE TAPE: Lakers versus Celtics

To pick up a newspaper this morning or to turn on the television in the past few days you would think that Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics meeting in the 2008 NBA Finals had been preordained by Nostradamus in his Les Propheities in 1555, just after he called the French Revolution and the tragic events of September 11, 2001. Or that this matchup and had been discovered encrypted in the five books of the Torah using the equidistant letter sequence method that revealed, among other things predicted in this "Bible Code", the 1995 assassination of the Israeli Prime Minister.

From ancient times it might seem that this matchup was fated against all odds. You'd think Magic Johnson actually bowed out of the game of his own volition and not due to an illness that he may, or may not, actually have in order to sow the seeds for the team that treads the boards in LA today.You'd think that the Basketball Jesus had made this matchup so after turning all the water in Canseco Fieldhouse into wine to lament the lost season under his watch.

So slanted is the coverage and so epic is the hype that you might even think that former Laker great Jerry West would have held behind-closed-door meetings in order to send the best player from Memphis to Los Angeles to push his old team over the top and that Kevin McHale would have done the same in Minneapolis for his Celtics. Oh, wait. Those last two did actually happen. Nevermind.

Well, whether it was massive collusion or the work of the gods, it has come to pass: The Lakers of Los Angeles (by way of Minneapolis) are taking on the Celtics of Boston for the 2008 championship of the National Basketball Association. So, let's get to know them both and see how they measure up with one another:

Regular Season Wins:
Lakers: 66
Celtics
Edge: Celtics. Yes, the (L)East was the weaker conference but there ain't two ways about, 66 games is a lot.

Regular Season Margin of Victory:
Lakers: +7.3
Celtics: +10.3
Edge: Celtics. They were running teams off the floor in the regular season from jumpstreet. It took the Lakers a lot longer to get themselves rolling, to realize they were a championship caliber team.

Postseason Seed:
Lakers: 1
Celtics: 1
Edge: Lakers. The West this year was as powerful as any conference we've seen in years.

Playoff Wins:
Lakers: 12
Celtics: 12
Edge: Even. They both got here. Now, it's just a race for those next four.

Playoff Losses:
Lakers: 3
Celtics: 8
Edge: Lakers. This is the key number. It took the Celtics five more games to reach the Finals. And they were supposed to be taking the "easier" route through the East. Of course, with a team making it's first run through May and June together it could be argued that the Celtics will benefit from this time together. It could also, and more convincingly, be argued that the Lakers are rolling because they're just that good.

Playoff Margin of Victory:
Lakers: +6.4
Celtics: +4.3
Edge: Lakers. These numbers are confusing because Boston has tended to win blowouts at home and lose tight games on the road (or at home). Meanwhile the Lakers have been consistently winning by almost the same margin as in the regular season, which shows they've appropriately upped their game to the level of competition.

Average Points Scored, Regular Season:
Lakers: 108.6
Celtics: 100.3
Edge: Lakers. Although both teams scored the way they needed to given the style of play in their respective conferences, the Lakers put up more points against better teams.

Average Points Scored, Postseason:
Lakers: 105.9
Celtics: 91.6
Edge: Huge edge for the Lakers. Here is the big question facing the Celtics: Can they score enough points? Ray Allen is scuffling and Kevin Garnett is primarily a jump-shooter. Can Pierce cancel out Kobe? Can Posey and House score enough off the bench to offset whatever the Lakers are going to get from Vujacic and Farmar?

Average Points Allowed, Regular Season:
Lakers: 101.3
Celtics: 90.3
Edge: Celtics. They were the premier defensive team in the league this season.

Average Points Allowed, Postseason:
Lakers: 99.5
Celtics: 87.3
Edge: Celtics. See above.

Leading Scorer, Regular Season:
Lakers: Kobe Bryant, 28.3 PPG (3)
Celtics: Paul Pierce, 19.6 (30)
Edge: Lakers, but not by as much as people think. Kobe is the game's preeminent scorer but Pierce can fill it up and create his own shot. Remember he out-dueled Lebron in Game 7 of the (L)Eastern Semi-Finals.

Leading Scorer, Postseason:
Lakers: Kobe Bryant, 31.9 PPG
Celtics: Kevin Garnett, 21.1 PPG
Edge: Lakers. When it come to scoring the ball the answer is Kobe every time. He's the leading scorer in these playoffs. He's shown the ability to take over playoff games down the stretch, just ask the Spurs. If the Celtics hope to win this series Paul Pierce move the needle on this category to EVEN. Still, it's worth noting that KG has upped his output in the postseason. He needs to be aggressive and outscore Gasol.

Team Free Throw Attempts Per Game, Regular Season:
Lakers: 27.7 FTPG
Celtics: 26.5
Edge: Lakers. On the right night Kobe can take 20 free throw attempts on his own and on a "bad" night the Lakers still have two starters (Kobe, Odom) who can create their own shot and therefore get to the line at will. The Celtics only have one (Pierce).

Team Free Throw Attempts Per Game, Postseason:
Lakers: 29.5 FTAPG
Celtics: 25.0 FTPG
Edge: Lakers, going away. The Lakers have increased their already gaudy regular season total to a playoff best-29.5 attempts per game while the Celtics have backtracked.

Team Rebounds Per Game, Regular Season:
Lakers: 44.1
Celtics: 42.0
Edge: Lakers. With Odom and Gasol aggressively and swiftly going to the offensive boards the Celtics will need to limit the Lakers to just one shot attempt each time down the floor.

Team Rebounds Per Game, Playoffs:
Lakers: 40.5
Celtics: 39.4
Edge: Slight edge to Celtics. The Lakers are playing far more possessions than the Celtics and should have a wider margin here.

Leading Rebounder, Regular Season:
Lakers: Lamar Odom, 10.6 RPG
Celtics: Kevin Garnett, 9.2 RPG
Edge: Even. Rebounding is going to be huge in this series and both teams have players capable of dominating the glass and hauling down 20+ on any given night. Both these players need to have double-doubles throughout the series for their team to have a chance.

Leading Rebounder, Postseason:
Lakers: Lamar Odom, 10.3 RPG
Celtics: Kevin Garnett, 9.8 RPG
Edge: Even. See Above

Leader in Minutes, Regular Season:
Lakers: Kobe Bryant, 38.9 MPG
Celtics: Paul Pierce & Ray Allen, 35.9 MPG
Edge: Celtics. Thanks to so many blowouts in the regular season the Big Three was able to take it easy down the stretch a few times a week. The question is whether or not the used up all that reserve energy after playing so many more games than the Lakers in the postseason.

Leader in Minutes, Postseason:
Lakers: Kobe Bryant, 40.5 MPG
Celtics: Kevin Garnett, 38.0 MPG
Edge: Lakers. For starters, Kobe is so pathologically driven to win that I honestly don't believe that fatigue is an in-game factor for him as much as for others. However, even if it is, it is important to remember that Kobe has average 40.5 minutes over 15 games while KG has average 38 minutes over 20 games. The Lakers should be fresher, even the guy who is always on the court.

Leader in 3-point Shots Made, Regular Season:
Lakers: Kobe Bryant, 150
Celtics: Ray Allen, 180
Edge: Slight Edge Celtics. Even though Ray Allen has struggling mightily at points in these playoffs he still has the best stroke I've seen this side of Allan Houston. Kobe is a streak shooter from deep who just seems to make deep, contested, line-drive shots by sheer force of will.

Leader in 3-point Shots Made, Postseason:
Lakers: Kobe Bryant & Sasha Vujacic tied with 23
Celtics: Ray Allen, 33 3PM (followed by Paul Pierce with 32)
Edge: Celtics. I don't doubt that the Celtics are better equipped to shoot the three-pointer over the course of a game, but are they better equipped to hit the big, dagger 3 in the fourth?

Leader in Assists, Regular Season:
Lakers: Kobe Bryant, 5.4 APG
Celtics: Rajon Rondo, 5.1 APG
Edge: Celtics. There's something to be said for division of labor and defined roles. You want your point guard to be spreading the ball around the floor. And, not the guy who has been known as one of the game's most selfish players. Kobe has shown (Game 7 of that series against the Suns a few years ago and in countless regular season games) that he can lose sight of the big picture when switching from his passive to aggressive modes. It's a fine thing that he has learned to give up the ball to his teammates but not a fine thing that they have to depend upon him to get them the ball.

Leader in Assists, Postseason:
Lakers: Kobe Bryant, 5.8 APG
Celtics: Rajon Rondo, 6.6 APG
Edge: Celtics. And, bigger than in the regular season. Rondo has upped his number of assists while playing fewer possessions and ceding some time to Sam I Am.

Leader in Steals, Regular Season:
Lakers: Kobe Bryant, 1.84 SPG
Celtics: Rajon Rondo, 1.68 SPG
Edge: Even. Although the Lakers may have the better overall thief I will pull the C's even here thanks to their overall team defense orchestrated by defensive guru Tom Thibedeau.

Leader in Steals, Posteason:
Lakers: Derek Fisher, 2.27 SPG
Celtics: Rajon Rondo, 1.80
Edge: Lakers. Having the stronger veteran D'ing up Rondo is a huge advantage for the Lakers.

Leader in Blocked Shots, Regular Season:
Lakers: Ronny Turiaf, 1.38 BPG
Celtics: Kevin Garnett, 1. 25 BPG
Edge: Celtics since Turiaf doesn't start and I don't see him earning enough minutes to have that marked a shot-blocking presence in this series.

Leader in Blocked Shots, Postseason:
Lakers: Pau Gasol, 2.47 BPG
Celtics: Kendrick Perkins, 1.35 BPG
Edge: Huge edge for LA. Gasol is long and active in the paint. He's an All-Star. Mr. Perkins? Not quite.

Leader in Personal Fouls, Regular Season:
Lakers: Lamar Odom, 2.9 FPG
Celtics: Paul Pierce, 2.5 FPG
Edge: Slight Edge Celtics. While neither team can afford to go without these two I really do think that Odom's defense (either on Pierce or KG) is the key to the Lakers success and his proclivity for drawing fouls could be a factor in this series.

Leader in Personal Fouls, Postseason:
Lakers: Lamar Odom, 3.3 FPG
Celtics: Kendrick Perkins, 3.5 FPG (Pierce is at 3.3 FPG)
Edge: Even. With PJ Brown and Posey on the bench and KG's ability to defend the 5-spot, Perkins is expendable. Pierce and Odom are not, though.

Leader in Comedic Film Characters In Uniform:
Lakers: Fletch, Chevy Chase
Celtics: Celtic Pride, starring Dan Aykroyd, Damon Wayans and Daniel Stern
Edge: Lakers, by a long shot

OVERALL EDGE
Lakers: 14
Celtics: 12
Even: 5
Lakers Win in 6 Games. Nostradamus totally called it.

BallHype: hype it up!

Thursday's Starting Five

1.
The Detroit Red Wings. They are the 2007-2008 NHL champions after vanquishing the Pittsburgh Penguins last night in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals. Although it's always a little weird to watch a team celebrate on another team's home court (or ice) it was still pretty awesome to watch passing of the Stanley Cup from one player to the next after it was presented to team captain Niklas Lidstrom. Even though the Penguins were tantalizingly close to tying the game before the buzzer (and I was rooting for that to happen) it seems to me and my limited NHL interest that the better team won. This makes four titles in 11 years for the Red Wings and further legitimizes Detroit's claim to be Hockeytown, USA.

2. Pittsburgh Area Puck Bunnies. Not only did these lovely ladies have the newly minted Stanley Cup champion Red Wings in town and their own young Pens downtrodden and likely in need of nubile (or not since it is Pittsburgh) company BUT they also have the Stanley Cup being wheeled about the Steel City in a shopping cart. For one-night only (a period of time in which these gals excel) they have the chance to not only bed a hockey player but also to bed Lord Stanley's Cup.

3. European Hockey Players. The glass ceiling has been broken by Niklas Lidstrom. Finally a European-born player has captained a team to the championship. I must admit that I didn't really understand how much of a stigma was attached to given the C to a non-North American player until this series. Clearly it is a big deal and another reason why Lidstrom will be an idol to players on both sides of the Atlantic.

4. The Charlotte Bobcats. The unsubstantiated rumors is that this wayward, false-starting bunch is set to reap the benefits from the potential breakup of the Detroit Pistons that GM Joe Dumars threatened when he dismissed Flip Saunders from his head coach position. And, by "reap the benefits" I mean that they might be able to reunite Rasheed Wallace with Larry Brown in the state where he played his college ball. If the tarheel connection (which also includes team exec and figurehead, Mike Jordan) is enough to get Rasheed to Charlotte then this team with Gerald Wallace,

5. Seattle Mariners Manager John McClaren

Now, that's how you motivate. Or, at the very least, that's how you take a page out of the Ozzie Guillen book in hopes of looking like you're trying to motivate your team. The timing of this tirate, coming so soon after another of Guillen's outbursts, makes this seem a bit of a put on. But, it'd be nice if it weren't. It would be nice if McClaren could inject some life into his pulse-less club.