Just a few thoughts from the past weekend in the NBA...
Losses by the Celtics and Lakers just add to the 1996 Bulls mystique:
Brace yourself for this "brilliant" remark... winnin' 70 ain't easy. Seriously, can we finally stop with the 70-win predictions? Every single year by Christmas the media piles on some talented team that flies out of the gate, throwing out 70-win predictions as often as Nadia Sulaman squirts out a kid and every year that team du jour loses game number 13 by March. The NBA season is too long and players are simply not motivated enough (Lamar Odom I'm speaking to you!) to drive through a six month regular season to get to 70 wins. Back in 1996 I remember the media undercutting the Bulls achievements all season long: the league was watered down, the players are not as fundamentally sound, Jordan isn't facing a Bird or Magic. All may be true, but the Bulls were driven enough to avoid too many upset losses by clearly inferior teams (unlike the Celtics against the Clippers and as the Lakers in Sunday's loss to Phoenix).
Anyway, here is my formula to winning 70:
1 - You need a visionary coach. Someone like Gregg Popovich or Phil Jackson who coaches with the entire season in mind and not game-to-game. Basically you want to avoid the 1999 Minnesota Vikings and 2006 New England Patriots syndrome of having a record-setting regular season but no title. After all, as Shaq said, it's all about the globes.
2 - You need SEVERAL driven players. This is why the Lakers aren't winning 70, because Kobe's competitive drive alone isn't enough to pull the Lakers through the entire season. Michael Jordan comes to mind as the only person capable, but it also helped that he had an almost equally driven teammate in Scottie Pippen. Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom (fresh off turtle-ing against KG and Kendrick Perkins in the Finals) aren't these type of guys. In fact, right after winning NBA Player of the Week, Gasol was talking about being fatigued and resting during games... which was obvious in the past two Lakers losses. You never heard that from Jordan or Pippen.
3 - You need some luck. Injuries are a part of the game and KG and Andrew Bynum going down all but ended any chance at 70. Outside of Dennis Rodman's suspension for head-butting a referee, much of the Bulls key players were healthy the entire season.
4 - The team needs a sense of history. This excludes the 1986 Celtics, who quite possibly could have gone for 70 wins except that it wasn't considered an achievement back then. The NBA in the 1980's was all about getting 50-wins and preparing for the playoffs. The 1986 Celtics were, in my mind, were the only team in the past 35-years with the best shot at 70, but it didn't matter.
5 - Talent. OBVIOUSLY!!! You can't even smell 70 without at least 2 or 3 All-Stars on your team (legit ones that command defensive double-teams and not political All-Star selections like David West because the NBA is keen on promoting Chris Paul).
With all that in mind, people really need to truly understand and appreciate the 1996 Bulls achievement of 72-10 (and 69-13 the following season for that matter).
BTW - Let me add that I too underestimated the challenge of 70-wins. I took a look at this Lakers team and emailed anyone who would listen (which wasn't really anyone, but alas) that they are 70-win capable. As always, I am an idiot!
Back to the rest of MMPG:
Lamar Odom... buyer beware: Remember Lamar Odom plowing through Boston and Cleveland with dominant double-doubles? Remember Lamar Odom with 74 rebounds in 4 games? Well you also need to know 6, 5 and 4... those were his rebounds, assists and points before he fouled out in the Lakers loss to Phoenix on Sunday. Odom is a free agent this summer and will command interest from several teams. So fare thee be warned, this is his 10th season in the NBA, so one of my favorite phrases applies here: you are what you are. And with Odom, he's always been "that guy" with tremendous potential, yet VERY inconsistent.
Starbury to the Celtics: God I hate this deal! As a Lakers fan, this does not bode well. Instead of matching the Celtics and grabbing up a much-needed big until Bynum returns, the Lakers traded to dump salary. Meanwhile, the Celtics improved a non-existent bench by grabbing Steph and Mikki Moore. Neither guy is going to lock down LeBron and at first I was like "big deal, they still won't pass Cleveland." But the more I think about it, Steph and Mikki are more about getting the top seed in the east and avoiding BOTH Cleveland and Orlando in the post-season. I see them both injecting confidence and pushing the C's to the top record in the NBA.
Here's my question to Celtics fans: does having the league's biggest cancer on your team take anything away from the title or is it "just win baby?"
Utah... For Real: Racked by injuries all season and barely holding on to the 8th spot, the Jazz are finally healthy and have run off 8-straight wins (including two impressive W's against Boston and LA). The Jazz have the talent, the depth and the coaching to put a real scare come playoff time. Plus they have that extra emotional motivation with the recent passing of owner Larry Miller. This team has the potential to put together the same type of run as in 2007 when they lost to San Antonio in Western Conference Finals. They sit 1.5 games out of 4th place in the west with 23 games left. Only 9 of those 23 are home, so the Jazz need to fix their road woes to make a move... and I think they will.
Houston... NOT for Real: The Rockets are putting together a similar run as Utah but I really don't see them as a threat out West (despite Jeff Van Gundy's continued beliefs). First off, aren't we due for the annual Yao Ming injury? He's one game away from playing the most games since 2004-05. Unlike T-Mac, Yao actually gives a crap about his team and winning... it's just that his body can't keep up. Also, with T-Mac gone, who's going to shoulder the offensive load on the perimeter? Ron Artest's perimiter game is inconsistent and they depend on a rookie (a very talented rookie, but a rookie none the less) at the point guard spot. As always, I see Houston not getting past the first round in the playoffs.