NBA 2K10 simulation predicts Lakers will win Western Conference finals in five against Phoenix Suns
And those curious about whether reserve guard Sasha Vujacic will provide a Return of the Machine against Phoenix will be largely disappointed. In the simulation, Coach Phil Jackson's talk about the team valuing Vujacic's return from a left ankle sprain proved unfounded. Despite being cleared to play, The Machine didn't play a single minute in the entire simulated series.
But no worries. The Lakers won't lost much sleep over that knowing that they'll make their third consecutive Finals appearance.
And for those wondering how much stock we should put in an NBA 2K10 simulation? Well, Kobe Bryant has given his stamp of approval both as a video gamer and an endorser. And the simulation proved mostly correct in picking the Lakers to advance past Oklahoma City in the first round.
OK, so the simulation had the Lakers winning in five games instead of six. It thought the Lakers would have no trouble playing in front of OKC's electric crowd. And it didn't think the Lakers would close out the series with forward Pau Gasol tipping the ball in with half a second remaining in Game 6. But those are all style points. Lakers fans should just be comforted to know that playoff basketball extends through June.
After the jump are the story lines of each game simulation.
Game 1: Lakers' 111-105 victory
Lakers top performer: Bryant (38 points on 12-of-20 shooting)
Suns top performer: Amare Stoudemire (31 points on 13-of-18 shooting, 12 rebounds)
How the game was won: It can't be overstated how much the week of rest benefited the Lakers. Bryant went on a tear, marking his sixth consecutive game scoring at least 30 points. Not only has his lift been at an all-time high, his finger actually healed enough for him to feel comfortable driving the lane. The increased aggressiveness resulted in a 12-of-14 performance at the free-throw line. The extra rest also benefited Lakers center Andrew Bynum, who spent all week getting treatment for the lateral meniscus in his right knee. He didn't lose the spring in his step, finishing with 29 points on 11-of-16 shooting and 11 rebounds. Interestingly, Gasol couldn't maintain his playoff consistency, finishing with only four points. And forward Lamar Odom disappeared and scored zero points. Part of that had to do with the fact that Bryant went into scoring mode, and part had to do with the two players' tentativeness. Nonetheless, they combined for 24 rebounds. The Suns actually entered the fourth quarter with a 80-74 lead, controlling much of the pace thanks to the tag-team duo of Stoudemire and Steve Nash (13 points, seven assists) on screen and rolls. Don't worry, Nash's theatrics didn't happen, with him playing essentially with just one eye in this series. Nonetheless, the Lakers won the fourth quarter, 37-25, thanks to Bryant's theatrics as well as some bench support from Shannon Brown (10 points) and Jordan Farmar (eight points).
Game 2: Lakers' 122-103 victory
Lakers top performer: Bryant (41 points on 14-of-28 shooting)
Suns top performer: Stoudemire (29 points on 11-of-23 shooting, 29 points)
How the game was won: The Lakers went on cruise control right from the beginning, storming out to a 41-25 first-quarter lead and extending the cushion to 68-48 at halftime. Bryant continued his aggressiveness, going off for 41 points and finishing 11 of 12 at the free-throw line. Gasol and Bynum essentially played a role reversal from Games 1 and 2, with Gasol finishing with 22 points and 14 rebounds while Bynum had a modest 12 points and seven rebounds. The Suns spent much of their time wondering who to focus on on defense. Occasionally, Phoenix proved successful in limiting the inside production. But Gasol and Bynum often kicked the ball out to the perimeter to forward Ron Artest, who scored 20 points and went four of nine from three-point range. Despite the Lakers holding a double-digit lead for much of the second half, Jackson remained reluctant to give the bench many minutes, perhaps fearful that the Suns' fast tempo would be too overwhelming. Nonetheless, Bryant (41), Artest (41) and Gasol (40) each logged plenty of minutes. Suns forward Louis Amundson injured his wrist, but he didn't sit out.
Game 3: Suns' 123-106 victory
Lakers top performer: Bryant (25 points on 12-of-26 shooting).
Suns top performer: Stoudemire (35 points on 13-of-22 shooting)
How the game was won: The Lakers never appeared in this game, despite featuring plenty of balance with Bryant (25 points), Gasol (13 points, 17 rebounds), Artest (12 points, six rebounds, five assists), Odom (11 points, seven assists), Brown (11 points) and Farmar (10 points) scoring in double figures. The glaring omission from that stat line, of course, involved Bynum, who scored seven points in only nine minutes after feeling pain in his right knee toward the end of the first quarter. The Lakers had trouble recovering once the Suns put together a 31-20 first-quarter lead, with Phoenix outscoring them 73-64 in the second half.
Game 4: Lakers' 101-88 victory
Lakers top performer: Bryant (33 points on 13-of-28 shooting)
Suns top performer: Nash (21 points on eight-of- 12 shooting, nine assists)
How the game was won: The Lakers continued to limit Bynum, who scored only six points in 16 minutes. And his absence drastically changed the Lakers' plans. Without Bynum in the lineup, Gasol fought through constant double teams in the post and finished with only nine points on a three-of-12 clip. Bryant made up the difference with 33 points, but he aggravated the injury to his right index finger, forcing him to shoot more perimeter shots instead of driving to the basket. Artest was a little trigger-happy, going two of eight from three-point range, but his 23 points was welcomed on a night no one beyond Bryant did much offensively. Fortunately for the Lakers, the Suns weren't that involved in the game, shooting only 33 of 69 from the field. They went on a 33-22 second-quarter run after the Lakers led 27-19, but the Lakers dominated the second half. Suns guard Leandro Barbosa twisted his ankle, but didn't miss any time.
Game 5: Lakers' 114-102 victory
Lakers top performer: Bryant (36 points on 13-of-23 shooting, nine rebounds, seven assists, three steals)
Suns top performer: Stoudemire (30 points on 11-of-20 shooting and 17 rebounds)
How the game was won: The Suns stormed out to a 29-20 lead, thanks to Stoudemire's dominance. But Phoenix quickly fizzled out, with the Lakers winning the final three quarters and the Suns shooting 27 of 70 from the field. Bryant drove the lane, resulting in a seven-of-eight performance at the free-throw line. He shot from the outside, going three of five from three-point range. He helped Gasol (11) and Bynum (10) on the boards, grabbing nine rebounds. He played facilitator, combining with guard Derek Fisher for 17 assists en route to a three-tiered inside effort from Bynum (17), Gasol (14) and Odom (eight). And Bryant played lockdown defense, resulting in three steals.
-- Mark Medina
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Upper photo: Kobe Bryant lays in two points as he drives between Phoenix Suns' Boris Diaw and Raja Bell in a 2008 regular-season game. Credit: Roy Dabner / EPA
Middle photo: Lakers forward Lamar Odom, elevates above Phoenix's Amare Stoudemire for a shot in a March regular-season game. Credit: Christian Petersen / Getty Images
Lower photo: Kobe Bryant pulls up for a jump shot over Suns guard Jason Richardson in a March regular-season game. Credit: Mark J. Rebilas / US Presswire