Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sam Smith: Rooting for Kobe vs. LeBron in the FInals

LeBron and Kobe
Who doesn't want to see LeBron and Kobe square off in the NBA FInals?
(Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images)

I confess I've been rooting for a Lakers/Kobe-Cavs/LeBron Finals for one of these rare times in NBA history when you truly get the two best in the game going at one another in the Finals.

It was the one thing missing from Michael Jordan's resume, though no fault of his. There was no true star for him to conquer then. Magic Johnson in 1991 was past his prime. We didn't know how far with his HIV diagnosis four months away. Clyde Drexler? Hardly, yet Jordan tried to make it something with the threes in the opener. Barkley? Nah. Karl Malone?

Magic had Bird, which was probably the greatest rivalry in the mid-80s. And Russell had Wilt in the 60s. Wilt was headed out when Kareem came and Walton wasn't there long enough.

There's no dispute now. Kobe and LeBron are one/two in some order, best in the East and best in the West. LeBron's going to get there. But I don't know about Kobe and the Lakers.

And not just because it's 2-2 now between the Lakers and Rockets.

It's the way the Lakers have played, and been beaten by the Rockets. I can see the Nuggets taking out the Lakers as long as George Karl doesn't freeze up, which he's done in big playoff series before. The Nuggets have physical play up front in Kenyon Martin and Nene, that Birdman guy off the bench, Carmelo Anthony to offset Bryant's scoring on some level, and Chauncey Billups, who dominates any Lakers' point guard combo.

It's also where the Rockets without Yao Ming Sunday embarrassed the Lakers. Phil Jackson has done a terrific job realizing he doesn't have a defensive team, particularly with penetration from the perimeter, and taking the offensive way out and succeeding. But the Rockets exploited that with small guards Aaron Brooks and reserve Kyle Lowery, often playing both. Derek Fisher has been a liability defensively (the Lakers best game was with him suspended) and the Lakers bench isn't much help. Pau Gasol has come up marshmallow again against smaller tough guys like Chuck Hayes and Carl Landry and Andrew Bynum, the so called missing piece for the dynasty, has been benched and so out of it even he admits he's having mental issues. And it seems the Lakers have become somewhat distracted trying to erase the reputation they are a soft, Western Conference finesse team.

"I think last year they got punked by the Celtics and they don't want that to happen again," said the Rockets' Ron Artest. "That was the word on the street, that they got punked by the Celtics, so this year they came out tough. I kind of respect them elbows."

Bryant was brilliant in winning Game 3 with big shot after big shot, and if the Lakers are to win the series he'll have to do it twice more. The Lakers seem even more a one man team now than do the Cavs.

Source From :