Friday, February 20, 2009

Carpe Knee-em

If you ask any Laker fan about the loss in the Finals last year, other than responding by popping a Xanax or breathing deep into a brown paper bag, they will likely blame the absence of Andrew Bynum and the lack of overall defensive toughness as the two most glaring reasons for the Lakers' demise last June.

And while these are the widely accepted reasons both in Los Angeles and nationwide for the Lakers' loss against the Celtics, I would submit another element as the true pivot point of last year's Finals.

Home Court Advantage.

Certainly the vacancy created by Bynum's loss and the toughness problem contributed to the defeat, but since the NBA went to the 2-3-2 format for the Finals in 1985, the number of times the home team has won the three middle home games is the same number of votes Alex Rodriguez should get for the Hall of Fame: zero.

That means, even when the team without home court advantage can manage to win two of their three consecutive homes (the best that any team has managed to do since the inception of this format), they still have to steal two away games from the team with the regular season's best record. This has proved to be a daunting task over the years, and the reason why, if the NBA chooses to stay the course of the 2-3-2 format, the advantage of home court in the Finals will continue to be crucial.

It swayed the pendulum of momentum even further in the Celtics direction last year and will likely do the same this year.

After winning the first two games of the series in Boston last season, the C's knew that if they could just get one the games in LA, they would be hopping a red eye back to Beantown for the final two contests, only having to win one of them. Definitely a very favorable scenario for Doc River's veteran club.

So even as the durability issues persist for the Lakers young center, the Lakers are playing some of their most energized and intense basketball of the year, and they must capitalize on the recent knee injury of Boston defensive anchor Kevin Garnett if they want to playing Games 6 and 7 of the Finals on the corner of Chick Hearn Court and Figueroa instead of the raucous Boston Garden.

You don't wish harm or injury on any opposing player, no matter their impact or status, but any athlete will also tell you that you make the most of any edge you can get. And the loss of the Celtic superstar for at least a week definitely qualifies into that "any edge" category.

Currently, the Lakers stand at a league-leading 44-10 before their showdown with Chris Paul and the Hornets Friday night at Staples, percentage points ahead of the second place Celtics at 44-12. So with the Big Ticket on the shelf for the time being with the bum leg, Kobe and Company must seize the day and maximize this current stretch to create some separation between the P&G and the defending champs.

After all, the winner of game 7 might very well be decided by who is sitting courtside; LA's Jack Nicholsen or Beantown Boys Ben Affleck and Matt Damon.

Carpe Knee-em.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Thanks For The Mihm-ories

Would you rather have injury-prone forward/center Chris Mihm or a conditional 2nd round pick in the 2013 NBA draft from the Memphis Grizzlies?

So would the Mitch Kupcheck. And that's why the Lakers pulled the trigger on a deal that sent the oft-injured, seldom used former Texas Longhorn and his $2.5 million salary to the home of Elvis, Justin Timberlake, and FedEx in a move to free up some cap room and reduce the amount of luxary tax money that the Lakers will have to pay to back to David Stern and the boys at the end of the season.

In his five seasons with the Lakers, Mihm never reached his full potential as a result of a serious of ankle injuries that left him less explosive and mobile than when he came into the league as a highly-successful college player. He was currently averaging 2 points, 2 rebounds for the team this year buried on the depth chart below one of the deepest front courts in the league. His best season in the purple and gold came in 2005-06, when he averaged 10.2 points and 6.3 rebounds per game, and was a solid contributor for the squad at the starting center position.

From all accounts, Chris was nothing but a true professional in all his time in the City of Angels, and we wish him all the best in his future endeavors in Memphis.

And maybe, just maybe this will help get both Lamar and Trevor resigned this offseason...only time will tell.

Reunited And It Feels So...Good?

The Big Fella, the Big Aristotle, the Big Cactus, even the Big Jabbawockee...whatever you call him, Shaquille O'Neal is one of the most captivating athletes and showmen in the history of sports. Sure, he doesn't play the second night of back-to-backs any longer and gravity has imposed it's will a little more harshly on his elevation off the floor in recent years, but no big man in the history of the game has ever been more dominant or more comfortable in his own skin than the Diesel.

O'neal was up to his standard horseplay over the weekend in the desert, doing his best Hot Sauce impersonation at the top of the key against Kobe Bryant in pre-game warmups, throwing a bounce pass through Dwight Howard's legs to set up a give-and-go dunk with New Orleans' Chris Paul, and even performing a choreographed intro dance that was the highlight of the entire weekend.

He has always been jovial, fun-loving, and the consummate showman, and the All-Star game has been the quintessential forum for Shaq's infectious and lighthearted personality to shine through. But this time it was different.

Realizing that this could possibly be and might likely be his last All-Star Weekend, a different side of O'neal emerged. He was reflective, thoughtful, and very grateful, seemingly taking it all in knowing that it would soon come to a close. As if Green Day's "Good Riddance" was softly playing in his head, Shaq soaked in all the sights and sounds of the game, joking with teammates and friends, getting the crowd involved and energized, shooting the breeze with former coach Phil Jackson, and yes, even extending on olive branch to former teammate and Co-MVP Kobe Bryant.

The MVP announcement had me searching for the screenwriter's name on IMDB, but despite its psuedo-orchestrated feel, I couldn't help but smile. Arguably the two biggest stars of the post-Michael NBA, once together dominating the NBA as the greatest 1-2 punch in the game, since separated amidst a swarm of discontent and disharmony, together again hoisting the All-Star MVP trophy to sky side-by-side. What a story.

With this triumph, David Stern's knack for public relations perfection reached a whole new stratosphere. As if the ubiquitous NBA Cares commercials and birthday cake for Bill Russell weren't enough, Stern was now playing Dr. Phil by reuniting two former superstar teammates with a history of discord. Genius, just genius....24 karat Public Relations.

With both smiling and laughing for the camera, the superstars whose paths just can't seem to avoid one another had another chapter written into their often tumultuous, often victorious story Sunday afternoon in Phoenix. The pair at shot one another looks as if to say coyly, "I just can't get rid of you can I?" as they answered questions in the post-game press conference. The sense of nostalgia in Shaq's voice was acutely apparent as he talked about reuniting with the old gang and thought back on the great things that they accomplished together.

Call me sentimental and maybe a bit of conspiracy theorist, but on a day when Shaq realized all he had achieved in the game, it is only fitting that he would share the spotlight with the one person with whom he will be forever linked.

And I'm not talking about a Jabbawockee.