I wish I had started writing this pregame article in the third quarter of Game Six. It was a much simpler and quaint period in my life. The Lakers led by 19 points and all roads pointed to New Orleans. Five wide open Utah three-pointers and a by-the-skin-of-their-teeth three-point victory later, things still seemed okay. The Lakers were on their way to the Conference Finals for the first time since 2004.
Their opponent: to be determined. The worst part of the Lakers celebratory weekend was something they had zero control over: for the first time in the 2008 playoffs, the Hurrrrnets lost on their home court.
The crusty, wily, angry, scowling San Antonio Spurs, full of pride and gusto, exposed the young Hurrrnets and dashed their hopes of an inaugural voyage the Conference Finals and subsequently earned a trip to Los Angeles. A trip they had already packed for. The defending champion’s presumption and revelatory attitude reportedly yielded a night sleeping on the team charter plane rather than a Five Diamond Los Angeles hotel.
Entering these Western Conference Finals it is important to remember how these two teams got to this point. The Lakers come in after sweeping Denver in the first round, where they ran circles around the Nuggets and nearly made the team explode in frustration. They ousted Utah in six games, including 96 minutes of basketball where they never trailed with wire-to-wire wins in Games 5 and 6.
The Spurs knocked off Phoenix in five and effectively ended the Mike D’Antoni era in the City of Smoke. They then were taken to seven by the upstart Hurrrrnets, never losing a game at home. History aside and collective fears mounted, the Lakers will tip-off against the Spurs Wednesday night at Staples Center.
In all the hours I have spent wracking my brain over this series and what it could hold, I have realized that if it is not hard, it is not worth it. Cliché and trite, maybe. Without this West Finals against the Spurs is like playing Mortal Kombat and skipping the final fight against Goro.
So bring on the bird-like face of Manu Ginobili, the blank expression of Tim Duncan, the pockmarked face of Gregg Popovich and the crazy purple arm of Ime Udoka because as my friend B-Will says “You gotta beat the champs to be the champs.” Damn. That should go on a T-Shirt.
Playoff Update! -
The C’s ratcheted up a big victory in Boston taking a 1-0 series lead against the Pistonitas using a unique defensive technique which basically consisted of Kevin Garnett running up to the ballhandler and screaming in his face until the 24-second clock ran out. I will probably grow wings and eat a salad before a road team wins in this series.
National: TNT (Marv Albert & Doug Collins)
Los Angeles: AM570 KLAC (Spero Dedes & Mychal Thompson)
San Antonio: WOAI 1200 AM (Bill Schoening & Paul Castro)
- Out: A. Bynum (Knee)
- Questionable: T. Ariza (Foot)
- Will Play: K. Bryant (Pinkie), D. Fisher (Foot)
Tempo: Pace is of paramount importance to the Lakers in this series. Control it and they will tire out the Spurs with their athleticism and ball movement. Play the Spurs style of slow-down halfcourt ball, and they’ll be getting their armpit hairs plucked out by Bowen and Udoka.
Close Out Three-Point Shooters: The Spurs have all sorts of dudes who like to spot-up for treys. Deny. Deny. Deny. It is simple: Bruce Bowen is going to go to the corner. Expect it. Manu Ginobili is going to hoist it up from the wing. Expect it. Robert Horry is going to punch Vladi in the face then step into a three. Expect it.
Varsity Challenge -
(Prize – A one night stay in Popovich’s pockmark on his left cheek.)
According to Spurs.com, their mascot Coyote set what career high against the Lakers on 12/17/97.