Statement game, statements made

by March 03, 2008

By Sam Rubenstein

You’ve got to love the Sunday afternoon statement game! Sure, the coaches and players will say they don’t exist, but they are liars. “Every game is equally important.” Sure. So, it was Dallas at the Lakers yesterday. Obviously Kobe stole the show and probably wrapped up his first MVP along the way. LeBron and Chris Paul did nothing wrong themselves to cause this to happen, but it’s over.

Holly will be singing Kobe’s praises shortly, but there are a few things I’d like to add.

I can’t believe Avery and the Mavs thought Jason Kidd guarding Kobe is a serious late game strategy. I get the whole cliche “Let your best players fight it out at the end” thing. It’s like how the Trojan War was hundred of thousands people killing each other and then Hector and Achilles decided it was time for them to go one on one. But for real, back on the Lakers run to their first championship of the threepeat, they beat Phoenix in the second round, 4 games to 1. One of those games I remember coming down to Kobe hitting the game winner over a much younger (this was 8 years ago) Jason Kidd. What’s changed since then other than Kidd having surgery and getting slower, while Kobe keeps getting better? And then there was Brandon Bass letting Kobe take his manhood from him to get the key offensive rebound right after Jeff Van Gundy told you it would happen. Bottom line… Avery Johnson can be had. Great regular season coach, and he led the Mavs to a 2-0 lead in the Finals, but there’s just something that’s not right.

Dirk heated up at the right time, sent the game to OT with a clutch three ball, and put the team on his back and took over like he’s supposed to. You can’t blame Dirk for the loss. It was Jason Kidd who missed the free throw after Pau Gasol gave him that gift. Dirk hit big shot after big shot, and turned Lamar Odom into his personal hand puppet. ALL THAT BEING SAID… his final airball on a wide open three was a very Dirk thing to do. Sure, Gasol was running out at him so it made sense to add some arc to the shot, but this is Dirk Nowitzki, a three-point shooting machine with very distinct mechanics. It was not wise to improvise a new shooting style there. Oh, he also got ripped by Kobe on a key possession that set up key free throws for the Lakers.

When it’s all said and done, the Lakers have to be considered a favorite to win it all, along with San Antonio. Houston keeps winning without Yao, but I think we’re all waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the wheels to fall off, etc. Phoenix is so re-energized by the Shaq trade that they lost at home to Philly. The tell-tale quote from that game was from Mike D’Antoni.

“This has nothing to do with Shaq,” D’Antoni said. “This has nothing to do with Shaq,” he said. “This has something to do with urgency and playing with heart.”

Uh… Shaq doesn’t do regular season urgency. The next four games for Phoenix are At Portland, at Denver, Utah, and San Antonio. You could say the Suns position at this moment is precarious!

Regarding the Lakers, looking back at the Gasol trade now, it reminds me of when the Rockets got Clyde Drexler. They had a million injuries that season, and as soon as they picked up someone who could play with the guy who was clearly the best player in the league, it was over. They made it dramatic with the “Clutch City” stuff, and they were so devastated by injuries and the championship hangover that they went into the playoffs as a 6th seed, whereas the Lakers are sharing the top spot with San Antonio already.

In the East, if LeBron believes he can win, then the Cavs are a serious threat. It’s Boston, Detroit, or Cleveland. That’s it. I don’t even want to acknowledge what’s going on in the race for the 7th and 8th seed over there.

Okay… it’s Monday and it’s March. We might have a Western Conference regular season that doesn’t become invisible during March Madness…