Sunday, May 17, 2009

Next Round

The Lakers won their seventh game with a dominant performance, the kind that makes you wonder where they've been. Some of it is discernible--two of their "big men" (like they aren't all big), Bynum and Odum, were hampered by injuries. Odum looked quick again, and Bynum is getting more sure in his moves, though he still doesn't have a lot of lift--it may take off-season strengthening to recover fully from his knee surgery, but the Lakers are going to need him as close to 100% as he can get for the rest of the playoffs.

Gasol was also impressive today, but mostly it was the Lakers bench--Ariza, Luke Walton, etc. playing spirited and smart, and you can see how gifted they are physically. When you consider that the Lakers led by 30 and won by 20, with Kobe Bryant scoring just 14 points, then this has to be a confidence-builder. But once again they are favored to dispatch Denver, and we'll see what team shows up, especially for their first away games.

Meanwhile, Spike Lee's amazing film on Kobe was shown on ESPN, and for basketball fans it was once in a lifetime. Spike Lee had more than 50 cameras, many of them just on Kobe, for an entire game last season (an important one against San Antonio). Spike had access to the locker room before, after and at halftime. Kobe was miked the whole time (and never stopped talking.) Then after the video was cut into the finished film, this season Kobe sat down and watched it with Spike, providing a running commentary, and answering just a couple of questions from Spike. The film follows Kobe for the entire game--every play, a lot of bench moments and halftime. There's never been a more complete view of what playing in an NBA game is like, and ESPN ran it without commercials or an interruption. Fascinating.

What became clear pretty quickly is that Kobe, who has literally grown up as a Laker, is dedicated to every detail of basketball. He's already a coach as well. Also, NBA teams have become much more international in just the past five years or so, with players from all over Europe as well as Asia. So in communicating with some of his teammates, Kobe speaks Spanish and Italian (which he learned as a child in Italy, where his dad played ball). He says that everybody on the team now knows at least a little of 3 or 4 languages.

Pre-conference finals update: Asked what he learned about the Lakers from the Houston series, Kobe Bryant said, "We're bipolar."

The money is still on a Lakers-Cleveland championship series. But Charles Barkely is not only predicting that Orlando will beat Cleveland in the eastern conference finals, he predicts Denver wins over the Lakers in the west. Orlando-Denver finals, without Kobe or LeBron? It's the NBA's worst nightmare.

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