HOUSTON - WE HAVE A PROBLEM!
The Lakers worked hard all year to have the best possible won-loss record. Having the best record means that you get to play four games out of every seven-game series on your home court. This Home Court Advantage is deemed crucial to a successful effort to win an NBA championship. Since every team discusses it so much, it may now have a great psychological advantage than many of us realize.
As the season unfolded, the Lakers became gravely concerned about the success and strength of the Portland Trail Blazers. The Blazers are a talented young team, and the Lakers lost all four of their games against Portland. On the other hand, they won all four of their games from the Houston Rockets. So, they have to feel somewhat relieved that Houston disposed of the Portland problem for them.
Houston was not supposed to win any of their games in Los Angeles, but someone forgot to explain the script to them. So, fools that they are, they came in and won the first game. Even more troubling, is the attitude that they brought with them. They are behaving, as if they will do the unthinkable, which is to win this Playoff Series from the Lakers. Kobe Bryant, or not.
The big difference for the Rockets this year was the addition of talented, tough guy Ron Artest. He has a history of being a troublemaker, but that seems to be mostly behind him now. He is the core of his team's defensive strategy, is an excellent passer, and he is a better than average scorer. He and Shane Battier teamed up on Bryant, and held him to just 32 points, as the Lakers lost the opening game by a score of 100-92. Scoring 32 points is a lot, but its impact is diminished, when you have to shoot 31 times to do it. By contrast, Yao Ming scored 28 points just 17 attempts. Another player, who was a surprise thorn in the side of the Lakers, was their unheralded point guard. Let's just call him Noname Brooks.
Brooks is just an example of some of the players on other teams, who receive intensive coaching, and who get better every year. Under Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant, Lakers players don't really improve.
Bynum might have been the exception, but injuries have slowed him down. Trevor Ariza may become the first young player to really overcome the Jackson Curse. At the moment, the Lakers future does not appear to be very bright. Bryant can't get any better. Gasol is good, but not great. Derek Fisher's great career is regrettably nearly over and Odom, Walton, Vujacic, and Farmar, have been undependable players, who have not lived up to the team's expectations. I think that Larry Brown, Byron Scott, Greg Popovich, or Doc Rivers would have developed them into better players than they are today.
LeBron James, of the Cleveland Cavaliers now claims the title of the NBA's Most Valuable Player. He received 109 of the 121 first-place votes. In my opinion James is, by far, the best player in the league. The scary thing for his opponents is that since he is only 24 years old, he will be even better in the future. Oh my!
Kobe Bryant held a title last year, but unless James suffers an injury, Bryant will never receive it again. The two of them could not be more different James is as competitive as Bryant is, but he seems happy with basketball, and with his life. James is respectful of his city, the owners of the Cavaliers, his coaches, and his teammates. He is unfailingly courteous and respectful to the people around him. Bryant, on the other hand, seems to be possessed by demons, which are eating away at his soul. Has there ever been a more miserable, ill tempered, selfish, profane, talented young millionaire? He behaves as if he is living in a concentration camp, and he seems to be searching for a way to get over the wall, so that he can find the happiness that he seeks. When you see him, his demeanor would lead you to believe that he is working on the Bridge over the River Kwai, rather than playing basketball at Staples Center. He has earned his success, and I hope that he learns to enjoy it, while he still can.
Michael Cooper has been hired to coach the USC Women's Basketball Team. He will continue his present position as coach of the Los Angeles Sparks, in the WBNA. He was known as "Coop", when he was a key member of the Showtime Lakers, along with Magic Johnson. He has had great success coaching the Sparks, and he is expected to return the women's program to its previous championship levels.