LOS ANGELES — L.A. uber alles….
As in days of yore, we are once more the center of the basketball universe with two (2) of the NBA’s remaining eight teams!
Actually, it only turned out to be one day of yore… from Sunday afternoon when the Clippers upended the Grizzlies in Game 7 to Monday night when the Lakers, who had just escaped the Nuggets in their Game 7, took the floor in Oklahoma City.
By Tuesday night when the Spurs wore down what remained of the Clips after the Thunder squashed the Lakes, we were down to being the city with the most endangered NBA teams (2).
Of course, it was (yawn) exciting while it lasted as Staples Center tried to figure out how to accommodate the Lakes, Clips and the NHL Kings this weekend.
Anyone for day-night NBA/NBA and NBA/NHL doubleheaders?
Thursday—Phoenix at Kings, 6 p.m.
Friday—Spurs at Lakers, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday—Spurs at Clippers, 12:30 p.m.; Thunder at Lakers, 7:30 p.m.
Sunday—Phoenix Coyotes at Kings, noon; Spurs at Clippers, 6 p.m.
To be honest, Southern Californians accepted their good fortune as their due, having been the center of the basketball world through this Millennium—all 11 1/2 years of it—as the Lakers won the most titles (five) and entertained/revolted fans everywhere with the most controversies (uncountable).
Of course, people here have yet to concede they’re no longer those Lakers, like Jim Buss, who insisted they were still contending for titles in this transition season.
Actually, they’ve been rolling and tumbling since mailing in another second half of the season before Dallas swept them last spring.
This season started with David Stern spiking their Chris Paul deal and continued amid signs of unrest as players adjusted to their new coach but somehow managed to keep it together—for which Kobe Bryant deserves a lot of credit–finishing strong after acquiring Ramon Session, their missing point guard.
Nevertheless, they were still Laker enough to pull a disaster out of thin air, blowing that 3-1 lead over Denver after Andrew Bynum informed the Nuggets it would be “kinda easy” to dispose of them in five.
Of course, winning Game 7 was a massive relief, after ESPN commentator/Laker VP Magic Johnson’s predicted that Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Mike Brown would be “run out of town” if they lost.
Let’s hope the Lakers enjoyed their day of massive relief, because it’s over, too.
Magic’s prediction may well have been too dire, as the team suggested pointedly, announcing it remained “fully committed to and supportive of Mike Brown,” noting the guy whose statue stands in front of the arena “in no way [reflected] the position of team ownership or management.”
By the way, Mike Brown was Jim Buss’s hire.
Of course, three more like Game 1 in Oklahoma City and Brown will come back next season as an endangered species, assuming the team is still fully committed enough to let him return.
An unseemly end would make a lot of other things that were unthinkable two weeks ago thinkable.
Drew for Dwight Howard, anyone?
If Bynum is Jim Buss’s fave and the Magic had no intention of trading Howard for him, the Magic may not just want to get something more than Brook Lopez for Dwight.
For the sake of commerce as well as competitiveness, the Buss’s expectations are even higher than those of talk show hosts.
If Jerry Buss proved his acumen many times over, it was because he demanded excellence but let his professionals, Jerry West and Mitch Kupchak, run the show.
As far as basketball or reality, Dr. Buss, as the Lakers call him, erred on the naive side, as after their 34-48 season in the wake of Shaquille O’Neal’s departure, when he said he thought they’d be back in the West Finals in “a couple of years.”
That was the season they gave Rudy Tomjanovich six years at $30 million—as much as they had paid Phil Jackson to win them three titles. Rudy felt the expectations, looked at what he had to work with and lit out for Houston midway through his first season, leaving $24 mill on the table.
Only a year before, Laker telecasts had begun carrying the always-quotable Jackson’s pre-game press session.
Even if nice, soft-spoken Rudy T said nothing, they continued televising the sessions that season.
Watching the first one, I thought to myself, “Don’t they realize everything has changed?”
Nobody realized it. That’s part of the Busses’ genius. They don’t realize how bad things are, and won’t accept it if that’s how it turns out.
It doesn’t matter if the Thunder is big, tough, young, athletic and finished six games ahead of the Lakers. The Busses would regard a second-round loss as a disaster.
Nor will Brown, Gasol and Bynum be home free if the Lakes pull it together and beat the Thunder.
It doesn’t matter how great a job the Spurs have done of building yet another contender around Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan.
The Lakers passed the Spurs by a long time ago, as far as the Lakers are concerned.
If the Clippers aren’t as good as the Lakers—although the margin in the standings was only one game—they have the advantage of knowing it, and the ability of doing something about it.
The Clips have already lived their dream, winning the third playoff series in franchise history, going back to the Buffalo Braves’ 2-1 first-round victory over the 76ers in 1977.
Better yet, they’re not over the cap and won’t be if they get Blake Griffin to sign an extension, enabling them to pursue exception-level free agents like Ray Allen without worrying about the luxury tax.
If you missed it—and most have—the indomitable Paul, back at the level he reached before his knee injury two seasons ago, is a full peer of the best of the best like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.
Smurf or no smurf, CP3 is one of the game’s great finishers, explaining how the Clippers led the Grizzlies, 2-1, after being outscored, 285-260, aside from their closing bursts in Games 1 and 3.
Topping that, their bench, fifth-worst during the season, bailed them out with 25 points in the fourth quarter of Game 7.
As Magic could tell the Clips, your day will come, too.