Friday, May 29, 2009

NBA Dream--or Nightmare?

It was all set up to be Kobe vs. LeBron. The Lakers were the best team, the Cavs had the best record. But when Cleveland went undefeated through their first two rounds and the Lakers were taken to seven in the second, it seemed like it would be just the LeBron show in the finals.

And now...The Lakers go into game 6 against Denver 3 games to 2. It's at Denver, so a Nugget home win is more or less expected, unless.. the Lakers actually figured out in game 5 how to capitalize on their height advantage, and how to defend Denver. While Denver doubled Kobe, he and others found the big men inside, with some good 3 point shooting outside. Odum had a monster game but Bynum played well in his minutes, too. Now the adjustment for Denver would be to keep the ball from going inside, which would mean letting Kobe create and shoot. Can the Lakers still dominate with their big men? Will Kobe carry them in the fourth quarter? If not, it's back to L.A. on Sunday.

Meanwhile, the Cavs were down 3-1, lost most of a 20 point lead (again) and held off elimination with a major fourth quarter from LeBron. But they go to Orlando for game six.

So the NBA dream finals is still possible, and so is the nightmare: Denver vs. Orlando. A couple of emerging stars there, but not the likely audience. What's likely at this point? Half and half. I don't think the Cavs can beat Orlando twice more, or three games in a row. It's a good sign that LeBron hadn't exhausted himself by the fourth quarter, but he can't carry them against this level of competition. I think maybe the Lakers turned the corner in the fourth quarter of game 5. I like them in game 6, and if not, in game 7. So by next week, when I'll be "on the road," I expect LA-Orlando for the championship.

Update: Lakers dominated game six and will be in the Finals. They will likely be favored against either possible opponent. If it's Orlando, the Lakers will have home court advantage, which could be key. If the Cavs win two games they will have risen to another level and could be formidable, but they will also have more fatigue problems. The Lakers were incredibly sharp in the sixth game, and they had figured Denver out, so it's unlikely the finals will be as easy as this game suggests. But I like the Lakers in six against either the Magic or the Cavs.

Update 5/30: All the very well paid analysts at ESPN were sure Cleveland would push their series to a seventh game, but this unpaid analyst picked Orlando, and so it was. They were as dominant in their game 6 as the Lakers were in theirs, and that should get the Lakers attention. The matchups in the finals won't be easy. But even if the others play to a draw, the Lakers still have Kobe. And the Lakers have home court. If they get game 1, they're on their way. Anyway, it is a Lakers-Orlando series (already billed as Disneyland vs. Disney World), beginning late next week.

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