By Craig Kwasniewski
Straight to the point: Lakers in Five. And now some unanswered questions about the series:
1 - Wait a second, you just took the Lakers in five. How is that possible when so many "experts" are taking the Suns?
Yeah how is that possible? After all the Suns are the hottest team, they beat the high and mighty Spurs and hey... the Suns play defense. I know this is crazy but is there a slight chance the Spurs we're overrated? I mean they were the number 7 seed. And they did have season-long chemistry problems with Richard Jefferson, their BIG off-season acquisition. Oh and did I mention they were old and broken? But see that's just insane to say such a thing...the Spurs were made for the postseason, just see how they destroyed the Mavericks in the first round. This is who they are, well coached, talented and savvy....Except ONLY on paper.
Now for reality: The Spurs beat a flawed Mavs team who still didn't figure out their rotations or their best five players in crunch time. The faster, more healthy, deeper and more motivated Suns the proceeded to roll the Spurs 4-0. And they play defense! So OF COURSE they can hang and possibly beat the Lakers.
See what I just did?
2 - Don't the Suns play defense?
Yeah this is the most hilarious thing this postseason. (Well obviously next to LeBron getting knocked out literally days after many pompous writers chided anyone who dared have an independent opinion on the MVP award... HOW DARE THEY!) The Suns play defense, they play defense... THE SUNS PLAY DEFENSE!!!
This is a borderline Fox News talking point. I'm expecting The Daily Show to put together 27 clips of everyone telling me the Suns play defense. Yeah and that yard of bricks slows down cars at the Indianapolis 500. Yes, these aren't the Mike D'Antoni era Suns, they actually step in front of dribble penetration and may put a hand in the face but let's face it, you're not seeing the 1989 Pistons, 1992 Bulls or the Riley Knicks.
Defense is very much a relative term here and please spare me the stats off the two previous flawed opponents. The Spurs were old and broken and the Blazers were just broken. It's not like the Suns locked down on D the full 48 minutes and broke both teams. Spare me the talking points.
3 - But ESPN guys are taking the Suns?
Yeah and they also really, really, really like Steve Nash and the old-guy-with-his-last-shot-at-a-title storyline. The media drools over this stuff...it's pure amateur hour and quite frankly lazy journalism. They're not picking the Suns, they're rooting for the Suns.
Oh and don't underestimate the backlash to the backlash from Nash's two MVP trophies. There seems to be a lot of "see he's really that good!!!!" reactions the past two weeks. Especially when people started to realize the past few years that the MVP's were very much a product of timing and an offense that seriously inflated his stats.
But whatever, keep pulling for Nash... it least this beats 8 months of Brett Favre cheering from the media.
4 - Enough bitching, why are the Lakers going to win in five?
Size, coaching and talent.
Size - The Lakers are the biggest team still alive in the playoffs. I say that because the Cavs were built to beat both LA and Orlando. As I saw on Christmas Day, the Cavs were the only team to effectively match and potentially exceed at all five positions. They're gone and the Lakers are left towering over the rest of the field. If they control the pace (something that they did in 2006, but just didn't have the talent to finish out and get by Phoenix), they win the series... easily. The Suns know they have to seduce the Lakers into jacking a lot of threes, which in turn create long rebounds and fastbreaks. The Lakers know a mid-paced game (high 90's) is the right tempo. There's no need to slug it out like 2006, but there's also no need to run and gun from three. Just post up their FIVE legit threats over and over and run the Triangle from the inside out and the Lakers will be fine.
Coaching - Alvin Gentry has done a hell of a job getting the Suns to believe in themselves and their system, but this is Phil Jackson. Say what you want about always having talent but there's something to be said about Phil Jackson teams always pulling out close games. People call it fortune or talent, but they always seem to come out ahead is VERY tight games (Game 6 at OKC, Game 3 at Utah). He gets his players in the right frame of mind so when sphincters get tight, the Lakers seem to carry that extra level of concentration and pull out the close ones. Jackson also knows the key to this series (pace and patience) and will keep the Lakers focused throughout the series.
Talent - 1 - 12 the Suns are deeper, but 1 - 7 the Lakers are more talented. Maybe Phoenix can expose the Lakers mediocre bench in the 2nd and 3rd quarters, but at the end of the day (or game) the Lakers have the games best closer in Kobe. But they also have the postseason's best power forward (Gasol has easily been playing his best basketball since joining the Lakers in 2008). Jason Richardson has been having the postseason of his life but now he'll have to match up with Kobe on both ends. There's a reason he's averaged just over 8 points a game in the 4 regular season games against LA. Working on both ends of the floor takes a lot out of your offensive game (just look at what happened to Pierce after defending LeBron, people were assuming injury and age got to him... nope, just 48 minutes of Hell... I mean LeBron). And Grant Hill may hold his own, but let's be honest, if your best defender was once superstar on the 1997 Detroit Pistons, you may have a problem.
Really, I'm shocked how people can see this any other way. I know a week off allows us all to over analyze things but really this is a match-up nightmare for Phoenix. But these are the residual effects of overrating the Spurs and rooting for "the old guy."
Lakers in FIVE.