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The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

Lakers just a Hollywood flop in dominant Western Conference

Ladd, on sports ()
Ladd, on sports ()

Last summer, Kobe Bryant got his wish. The superstar guard became the uncontested face of the Los Angeles Lakers. In the wake of the Lakers’ humiliating loss to the Detroit Pistons in the 2004 NBA Finals, owner Jerry Buss directed General Manager Mitch Kupchak to overhaul the team. Shaquille O’Neal and Coach Phil Jackson were sent packing, leaving Bryant alone in the Tinseltown spotlight.

I have no doubt that Bryant believed a Laker team with him as the Alpha Male could maintain its high-octane performance, which included three championships in five years.

However, appropriately enough, L.A.’s season has shown an astonishing parallel to the Hollywood blockbuster Titanic.

Unfortunately for the Lakers, it’s the part where the iceberg splits the boat in half.

Currently, L.A. is number ten in the Western Conference, three and a half games behind the Denver Nuggets for the eighth and final playoff spot. Since bringing in Coach George Karl, Denver has been virtually unstoppable.

Meanwhile, the Lakers are fading fast. Their chances of getting to the playoffs grow dimmer by the night, as the losses continue to mount.

Contemplating the NBA playoffs without the Lakers is surreal. They’ve gone from the team to beat to out of playoff contention, seemingly overnight, basically because Kobe Bryant had to be the man in L.A.

But the Western Conference has not been left without a juggernaut. The void left by the Lakers has been filled by the San Antonio Spurs.

San Antonio will not be alone in chasing the western crown. A surprising upstart, in the form of the Phoenix Suns, a team that failed to make the playoffs last season, joins them atop the conference standings.

The Suns play an exciting, frenetic, fast break form of basketball night in and night out. Their style of play has been sorely missed in the NBA over the last few years, and watching their games is very refreshing for anyone tired of the bump and grind, physical style of play that has permeated the league since the Detroit Pistons won the NBA title in 1989.

The Suns and Spurs are in a virtual tie for first place in the west. With Tim Duncan projected to miss the rest of the regular season with an ankle injury, the Suns will probably head into the playoffs with the top seed in the conference.

If a healthy Duncan returns to San Antonio when the postseason begins, which is expected, they will still be the favorites to win the West.

Favorites, but by no means a given. Lurking in the West is stiff competition from perennial contenders, the Sacramento Kings and the Dallas Mavericks. Both teams are experienced, having been deep into the playoffs in years past, and have talent laden rosters.

The Seattle Supersonics, who, like the Suns, missed last year’s postseason, will also be a factor in the West.

I have less faith in the Suns and the Supersonics than I do in teams like San Antonio, Dallas, and Sacramento. To survive the grueling NBA post-season, a team has to be weathered and experienced in playoff battles.

Phoenix and Seattle lack such seasoning, while the other three teams have spent the last half decade trying to dethrone the Lakers (in the case of the Spurs, succeeding once), and have accrued the needed experience and savvy to seriously contend for a championship.

The eventual NBA champion will come from the Western Conference. That’s not meant as a show of disrespect to the defending champs. Detroit is a very good team, but to a great degree their championship is an aberration.

The Pistons defeated a Lakers team that was ripe for the picking in last June’s NBA Finals. Detroit coach Larry Brown prepared his team well, and in every facet of the game they outplayed heavily favored L.A. They simply wanted it more.

That kind of advantage would not be present against the heavy hitters in this year’s Western Conference. Despite winning only two championships in the proceeding six seasons, the Spurs are a very disciplined team. Desire is not an issue with them; they still want more championship rings.

Desire is definitely not an issue for the Kings or the Mavericks. Having been trapped in the shadows cast by L.A. and San Antonio for all these years, both teams are hungry for a championship of their own.

Without the intangible advantage of desire, a team from the East would be hard-pressed to pull off another upset like last year. Neither Detroit nor the Miami Heat (the only other team with a conceivable chance of winning the Eastern Conference) has the talent to match up with the western contenders in a seven-game series.

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