Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Funny, The Lakers In 4? The Power Of TMT’s Team

Sunday and Monday, we got lucky with two G7s. That’s good.

We got even luckier when the Spurs won G7 on the road. Okay, that’s even better.

In the meantime, Tuesday, the Bulls had their lucky Draft lottery day. We got lucky, too, because Nos. 1 and 2 go East.

Yes, the Lakers got lucky, too. They’re a great team and that’s a no-brainer. Add the Spurs’ sleepover and weariness and that’s the best. For them?

Some guys say the Lakers win this series simply because the Spurs are old, slow, have no depth, have trouble scoring when the jumpers aren't falling. Duncan is struggling this whole playoffs. The Spurs bench sucks they have no one who can produce big numbers for them.

Some guys say the Lakers win series in 5. Hell, they say even in 4.

Some guys say, the Spurs are too slow to keep up with the MVP and his supporting cast. The Lakers bench will be the huge difference maker. Ronny Turiaf, Sasha Vujacic, Jordan Farmar, Luke Walton and Trevor Ariza is back. Look out. That is the best depth in league, hands down. The other major factor will be Lamar Odom - the Spurs have no answer - Oberto and Kurt? Can anyone say MISMATCH? Lamar will be a BEAST in this series and Kobe will get his while Pau Gasol will virtually match Duncan in the stats department. Add it all up, and the Lakers with their youth are going to run circles around this Spurs team.

Some guys say, anybody talking about the Spurs bench being better than the Lakers bench is down right remedial, if the Lakers brought there best player of the bench he would still outscore the Spurs starters by himself. Take away Ginobili's points and what does the bench score 6 maybe 7 points. DJ Mbenga could get that by himself! Kobe will score on anybody that guards him. Pau and Duncan are a wash. Get Ariza in there to slow Manu down.


Pretty cloudy, isn’t it? Okay, stop your blabberings, “guys”.

Stuck on the tarmac, with hours to waste, Brent Barry had one regret. He wished he’d bought the guitar in New Orleans.

The Spurs instead ate and they talked and about 2 a.m., they turned out the lights. Then they recreated a trans-Atlantic flight while never leaving the ground.

Gregg Popovich still tried to make sure they didn’t crash. *I just told everyone we would have a sleepover,* he said later. *Got pajamas for everybody.*

Those on the plane said Popovich did more than laugh. Walking around the charter, he added to the humor with words that had an edge.

*Just another challenge,* he kept saying.

The Spurs have few other things on their side tonight. They would have been tired had their charter flight been on time and then the league’s oldest team tried to sleep in reclining seats.

Michael Finley and Robert Horry may never be able to return their spines to the locked and upright position.

If Joey Crawford shows up, the evening will be complete. Popovich might as well activate Ian Mahinmi, start Damon Stoudamire, Jacque Vaughn and Matt Bonner and get ready for the second game.

The only drawback to that, besides a 0-1 start to the series, is that it never gets easier for the Spurs. The every-other-day schedule in the Western Conference finals won’t ever give the Spurs time to fully recover.

They also don’t have time to spend much time on the game plan, but the Spurs aren’t completely lost. They have advance scouts and they do something else that not every team does. They split up the league, assigning different opponents to different assistants. That means someone is responsible for knowing the Lakers.

Then again, they already know Phil Jackson and the Triangle and they know Kobe Bryant and his habits. They know the Lakers might be the best passing team in the league and that they have versatility and length. They know, too, that Derek Fisher can hit a shot.

They know two other things. The Lakers, as it was with the Mavericks and Suns, haven’t been together for a full season. Two, they haven’t been tested as the Spurs have.

The prize for winning the West was the easier side of the bracket. The Lakers earned that. But, to the Spurs, the Lakers are different but not significantly better than the Suns or Hornets.

So the Spurs are tired, and they shouldn’t be ready, and Manu Ginobili, especially, needs a few days to recharge. But having just survived two elimination games, they have something else going on.

Rudy Tomjanovich knows all about that. When his 6-seed Rockets followed a title with another in 1995, he stood on the floor and bellowed his famous quote.

*Don’t ever underestimate,* Tomjanovich said then, *he heart of a champion.*

Many repeat that line, and most get it wrong. They think Tomjanovich said, *Never underestimate,* and they turn it into an uplifting message.

Tomjanovich instead was scolding as an angry parent would. Don’t EVER.

*People were doubting us, saying we had lost it,* Tomjanovich would say years later. *It was a response to a lack of confidence, disrespecting who we were.*

The Spurs don’t talk about disrespect publicly, but they’ve had this kind of toughness all along. Now they’ve added another powerful layer. They’ve pushed with Shaq, won in double overtime, come back after being down 0-2, chased Chris Paul and pulled out a seventh game on the road.

Tony Parker scored at least 30 points three times in the first round against Phoenix and he assumed a complementary role in the conference semifinals before hitting the game-sealing jumper in Game 7. What’s good that he led the Spurs in scoring against the Lakers this season with 20.7 points per game and committed only five turnovers compared with 18 assists.

Manu Ginobili, among the NBA's active playmakers, might rank second only to the Lakers' shooting guard Kobe, moved into the starting lineup before Game 3 of the conference semifinals. The Spurs won four of the next five, in spite of a calf injury that has robbed him of some of his explosiveness in recent weeks.

Bruce Bowen , our perennial NBA all-defensive team member will once again get a chance to harass Bryant, the man he was brought to San Antonio to slow down. He helped turn the conference semifinals around when he switched from defending Chris Paul to Peja Stojakovic and essentially shut down Stojakovic for five games.

Tim Duncan, three-time NBA Finals MVP and possibly the greatest power forward in league history... After a dominant series against Phoenix, was slowed by illness and double-teams against New Orleans but still made a big impact. - averaging better than 19 points and 13 rebounds per game in the playoffs, including a 40-point game vs. the Suns and a 23-board game vs. the Hornets.

Fabricio Oberto is the epitome of the “value not found in the stat sheet” player which sparked each of the Spurs' final two victories against New Orleans with his work on defense, relentlessness in chasing loose balls and precision in the high-low post game with Duncan. Depending on how the Spurs' staff sees the matchups, could start or come off the bench to spell Kurt Thomas.

What about Spurs bench? Playing in the conference semifinals for the first time, Ime Udoka arguably was the Spurs' most consistent performer against the Hornets. Veterans Robert Horry and Michael Finley both made huge shots to put away New Orleans. Rugged part-time starter Thomas will get plenty of minutes against Gasol. Brent Barry could get opportunities this series.

Coach Gregg Popovich, along with his adversary Phil J. in this series, is one of five coaches in NBA history with four or more titles. He earned his 100th playoff win by beating the Hornets in Game 7 of the conference semifinals, passing Red Auerbach for all-time playoff victories and tying him with Larry Brown.

Easy team to beat, ain’t it?

Yeah, we know the Lakers are perfect and without any flaws. “We” are the Lakers fans.


Before they fell asleep, the Spurs huddled inside the grounded plane, all 15 heads.

They talked together. About the upcoming series, of course. About their system, plan, roles and everything. Coach Pop was also with them, with a clipboard, of course. After some time, Pop urged everybody, *It’s time to sleep, gentlemen.*

*THESE GUYS ARE GOING TO KILL US IF WE MEET THEM IN THE PLAYOFFS,* said the Spurs’ captain, chuckling.

Everybody knew what he meant.

We got lucky, because we’ve got the battle-tested (and life-tested) TMT trio. And the Team. And the Coach. That’s the best.

In the end of these series, when the Lakers look at their birthday certificates, they’ll know what we know already now:

Don’t mess with the real power of TMT... after Game 1 - the Lakers blowout win.

p.s.: Monday night is precisely why we love this game so very much - because Game 7 is NBA heaven. (-charley rosen)
p.s.2: *Tell the refs to do the interview. They were just as important,* said Celtics head coach Doc Rivers who felt some crucial calls didn't go Boston's way in G6.
p.s.3: *We're maybe the dirtiest team in the NBA, we always have been,* Gregg Popovich said, his voice sopping with sarcasm. *We're known for that, our physicality. We wear black.*
p.s.4: Paul Pierce was fouled in the crunch time and went to the line with a chance to ice the Game7, his knees seeming to knock as he raised his right arm and released the first free throw. Off the back rim it bounced and straight up it went. The entire arena held its breath as the ball began to come down and the place erupted when it went through the net. *The ghost of Red [Auerbach] was looking over us,* Pierce said. *I think he kind of tapped it in the right direction and it went through the net. That's just kind of the way it was going.*
p.s.5: All in all, Popovich seemed in fairly good spirits about the whole ‘Plane’ episode. At least, he said, the Spurs weren't stranded in New Orleans after a Game 7 loss. *If it had been a loss, there would have been fighting on the plane,* Pop said. *We would have fought the people who are serving us. We'd have been fighting each other. We'd have been pointing fingers. There would have been deaths on that plane.*

Posted by Foreigner in CS - May 21 2008 3:37PM

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