Game 7 happiness and beyond ("beyond" meaning the Western Conference Finals)
It's over, and it starts again tomorrow.
It took a long time, required a great deal of blood, sweat, and tears (as opposed to Blood, Sweat, and Tears), but with their 89-70 win over the Houston Rockets in Game 7 of the Western Conference Semifinals Sunday at Staples, the Lakers kept their playoff hopes alive. They did it primarily on the defensive end. The box score shows 21 points for Pau Gasol, 14 for Andrew Bynum in a redemptive effort that the Lakers hope will serve as a building block heading forward, 15 from Trevor Ariza (including nine in the opening 12 minutes), and a very quiet 14 from Kobe Bryant, who made his impact in other areas of the box score, writes JA Adande of ESPN.com.
The important numbers, though, were on the Houston side. 37% shooting, 4-13 shooting for Aaron Brooks, 4-12 for Luis Scola. LA had eight steals, ten blocks, and played the pick and roll with effectiveness, never letting the Rockets find a rhythm. For LA's bigs, it was important bounce back performance, particularly for Gasol, who was awful in Game 6 defending the rack. In playing stiff D on Sunday (along with attacking the glass with 18 boards, including six on the offensive end), and adding a primal scream or two, Pau may have introduced a side of himself fans didn't know was there.
So that's it for the Rockets, who deservedly won the respect of fans and writers around the country. Now it's Denver time, as the Lakers kick off the Western Conference Finals tomorrow night at Staples.
The Nuggets have rolled through the first two rounds of the playoffs and are fully capable of taking down LA, especially if the Lakers continue their "bi-polar" (Kobe's words) play. On the other hand, just as it is with the stock market, past performance does not guarantee future returns. That the Nuggets have rolled through two rounds doesn't mean they'll continue their top shelf play, and LA's struggles against the Rockets don't automatically lead to problems against Denver.
Especially if, as they say, the Lakers have learned the value of playing hard. You know, like, all the time (did I just have to type that?).
It is, as they say, a fresh start. With that in mind...
Seriously, though, which Lakers team is the "real" one? If the Lakers could let writers and commentators know, it'll make the whole prognostication process a lot simpler.
For all the talk of writers and pundits taking the first lifeboat off the S.S. Lakers, seven of ten ESPN writers pick the purple and gold to advance. The Nuggets, it should be noted, are not among those who were polled.
The Roundball Mining Company, one of a couple rock solid Nuggets blogs, has a great early look at the series, noting that just as it was against Houston, LA can't abandon the post:
"...You can talk about Kobe Bryant all you want, the Nuggets biggest concern should be how they can handle Bynum and Gasol. With the starters on the floor Kenyon Martin is going to have to guard one of them and he has a serious length disadvantage against both. Most likely Kenyon will be guarding Gasol and for all his defensive desire and talents he is in a big hole trying to cover Gasol. Pau can shoot his 15-18 foot set shot over Kenyon at will and when he goes into the post his jump hook will be impossible for Kenyon to stop.
Nene is relatively better equipped to cover Bynum than Kenyon is for guarding Gasol, but Bynum still has a significant length and weight advantage over Nene. On the other hand, Nene has done a decent job against Gasol in the past so will Denver choose to stick Kenyon on Bynum and double the heck out of him should he get the ball in the post thus creating one major mismatch instead of two less than desirable matchups?
When Chris Andersen comes off the bench things do not get much better. Andersen is physically a better matchup on Gasol than Kenyon, but his desire to block shots plays right into one of Gasol’s greatest strengths, and that is offensive rebounding. When Andersen leaves Pau to go for a block he better get it or else Pau is converting the miss..."
Click the link and read the whole thing. Well worth the time, especially for a reminder that while the Nuggets provide a major test for LA's defense- those dudes can fill it up- their team defense is well beyond what Lakers fans saw in last season's playoffs. Anyone thinking the Lakers, now that they're done with Houston, can just start piling up points again ought to reconsider (the Nuggets, for example, were fifth in the NBA in opponents effective FG% at 48.5%. LA will still have to execute.
Shane Battier talks about what it takes to beat LA, and how he sees a Lakers/Nuggets series. (For more video from Sunday's win, click here.)
Obviously there will be plenty more on this series before Tuesday's tip (remember, it's early- 6 pm for a national TV audience, so adjust your schedules accordingly).
Finally, Lamar Odom has an interesting explanation for yesterday's earthquake on his Twitter feed.