By Craig Kwasniewski
Lakers/Cavs, LeBron/Kobe, Bynum/Shaq, Mike Brown/Phil Jackson's clipboard (Come on, it's too unfair to compare Mike Brown to the greatest head coach in NBA history, so we'll go with his equal... PJ's clipboard, hey but it's not any old clipboard, so at least Mike's got that going for himself, which is nice.)
Anyway, the top two teams in the NBA meet tonight for the final time in the regular season. I would have said for a possible Finals preview but with the Celtics, Hawks, Magic and Nuggets there's still a lot of great teams that both the Lakers and Cavaliers have to pass through before ESPN/Nike's dream NBA Finals.
So let's get down to the nitty gritty and preview the matchup between these two.
Size DOES Matter: "Nobody can match the Lakers size", "Damn the Lakers are long!", "Bynum, Gasol, Odom... now THAT's a frontcourt!"... all very true and I thought the Lakers size and quality depth would be a HUGE difference on Christmas Day. Except the exact opposite happened and the Lakers were blown out.
The Cavs are the one team in the NBA that can outsize the Lakers. I'm not sure if it was a key adjustment or just dumb luck, but 4 minutes into the Christmas game, Mike Brown put in a lineup of LeBron, Mo Williams, Anthony Parker, Shaq and Ilgauskas and the Cavs took over. The Cavs were bigger and stronger in all five positions and discouraged the Lakers bigs from attacking the lane. Cleveland rendered the Lakers a jump shooting team and became the aggressors and anyone who's watched the NBA knows, the refs ALWAYS favor calls with the more aggressive teams. The game became a blowout and a very festive Staples Center crowd grew impatient and frustrated while they watched the NBA Champs wilt to the Cavs. It was embarassing... and as a Lakers fan VERY scary. The Lakers aren't supposed to be out-sized.
Cleveland is NOT Boston: On Christmas Day there was no message to be delivered, this wasn't a rivalry, these aren't the defending champs with angry, pasty, drunk, obnoxious, ugly, retarded, racist (we all know how racist Boston really is, in fact that all white professional basketball league proposed putting an entire division in the Boston area... but I digress), ugly, annoying Celtics fans... this was Cleveland, LeBron and those puppet shoe commercials. There wasn't the same bitter taste in the air like the Celtics game last season and it showed. The Lakers didn't bring the energy but neither did the Staples Center faithful... well at least until the foam finger rained terror and blood was shed from the damage and destruction from the foam fingers (well that's how the media portrayed it so it must be).
Point being, the Lakers played with the same energy of a Clippers game in November and not with a playoff effort.
LeBron is GOD!!!! Enough already! Let it be said that LeBron is a darn good hoopster. But do all Clippers/Celtics fans with gigs at ESPN need to remind us about it with a 3,500 sonnet? I get his angle, no better way to get underneath the skin of Kobe fans than to write about LeBron being the best basketball player on the planet. Fine! By his definition he is. Well my definition is a tad different and I'm okay with being an 11-year Lakers season ticket holder and watching SIX NBA Finals appearances and FOUR NBA titles. You can have the best basketball player on the planet... I'm okay with watching Kobe in person and actually winning rings!
The Verdict: The Lakers have the best coach in NBA history, two bonafide All-Stars in Gasol and Kobe (Mo Williams is a good player but *NOT* All-Star material!), more versatile depth (they can play with speed or in a slow it up game) and they have the better clutch players (plural here folks, it's not just Kobe vs. LeBron down the stretch, it's also Fisher and Gasol)...
HOWEVER, the Cavs size really threw the Lakers off their game on Christmas Day and I think that's the difference tonight as Cleveland beats Los Angeles 104-97.
BTW - I have this weird feeling about the Cavs... I think this is the year LeBron finally gets his ring. There's something about this team, first the media wrote them off too soon, plus the Celtics are looking VERY old and the Magic are wilting under expectations... this is FINALLY LeBron's year.