Tuesday, March 6, 2012
3/06/2012 03:27:00 PM | Posted by Nate Hughart | Edit Post
So the new Thursday is now Tuesday okay? Okay, good. Today, I profile 3 more real contenders that are not Oklahoma City. (They are last in my series.)
Los Angeles LakersAre the Los Angeles Lakers for real? Well, it depends on who you ask. First, it's obvious where the Lakers strengths are. In order it's A) their size and B) Kobe Bryant. Why is Kobe second? Because where the Lakers differentiate themselves is with Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. Not Bryant no matter how legendary or incredibly brilliant Bryant is at the ripe young age of 33.
In fact, one might say this team would go as far as Pau Gasol is willing to push himself to that next level. Strangely enough, the Lakers seemingly haven't missed Lamar Odom that much despite whatever Odom brought to the Lakers bench during the regular season in years past.
Because the Lakers are dissected and analyzed every other section on just about every NBA media outlet imaginable, I'll leave this pretty simple. I see the Lakers chances of coming out of the West coming down to 3 things.
1) Can Mike Brown gain the trust of the big 3 Laker players as they said after the big win vs Miami at Staples Center. If that trust of those 3 Lakers happens, the rest of the team will follow. You get confidence from Bryant, Gasol and Bynum, the other Laker players will follow suit and play with more confidence. Check this quote out from the Masked Mamba:
He's still more animated than his predecessor but he's "loosening his grip a little," Kobe Bryant said.2) Can the Lakers find a bench that would cut down on the minutes that A) Bryant is playing and B) give Brown a weapon he can use in matchup problems with any number of various Western Conference teams.
"It's easy for Phil Jackson, but it's hard for anybody in this situation to do that, so it takes a lot of trust on his part. He did it on his own. Sometimes the best coaching job to do is to kind of take your hands off a little bit."
3) Can the Lakers find the appropriate balance between Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Kobe Bryant in running their offense? It can't be all Kobe all the time, and Gasol/Bynum need to stay engaged for as much of the game as possible to make the use of their threat as real as possible? As Brian Kameneztsky pointed out, the Lakers never dominated the Miami interior even in victory. That's problematic for the Lakers playing Oklahoma City in a matchup, and most likely Memphis, Denver or even Dallas.
Now, I didn't slight the Mavericks on purpose by putting them below the Lakers. It's just that, in this season anyway, I feel the Lakers have a greater chance than the Mavs who, for whatever reason, and right or wrong, let Tyson Chandler dramatically altering their roster for years to come. The Mavs pace is 90.1 (22nd of 30) possessions per game, the ORtg is 103.8 per 100 possessions (14th of 30) and the DRtg is 100.9 points per 100 possessions (10th of 30).Compare this to the championship season where the Mavs had the 8th ORtg and DRtg and the 18th fastest pace, not that much has really changed. Except for the record and chances to make it out of a frenetic West that is even worse in terms of playoff contenders now that Minnesota is knocking on the playoff door, and Houston as of this writing is still hanging onto the 8th seed.
After an impressive 6 game win streak that featured 2 wins over the Nuggets, Wolves, Clippers, Lakers and 76ers, the Mavs have proceeded to lose 6 of 8 games since. This is the Mavs in a nutshell: If they get hot they can get on a roll. But this team has been hot and cold and those teams do not typically catch fire in the playoffs no matter what how screwy this truncated compressed NBA schedule may give creedence to that notion.
Dirk Nowitzki is having his worst statistical season since the last lockout---the infamous Dirk struggle rookie season. The Mavs are still getting contributions from Jason Terry, Jason Kidd, and Shawn Marion. New faces like Delonte West, Vince Carter, Brandon Wright. There are young players who have been on the roster in recent seasons like Rodrigue Beaubois (Roddy Bucketz baby!!!) who is best known for his playoff performance in 2010 against the Spurs. Also, Ian Mahinmi, a one time San Antonio 1st round draft pick, is also on the Mavs roster with improved numbers over recent years.
The question is can all the new pieces, along with the existing pieces, mesh together and come together for a solid playoff run that challenges likely Western Conference Final participant Oklahoma City? Well, who knows. Rick Carlisle has maintained that the Mavs need to be playing well when it counts, and that perhaps may be true. Many people have already pointed out that the Knicks made the Finals as the 8th seed in 1999 in part because of the screwy regular season.
Will the Mavs be in the thick of things by the time it's all said and done? It's quite possible. And it's quite possible the Mavs will be bounced out of the first round too. They are just that unpredictable as their season has shown.
Of the real 6 contenders (Oklahoma City, San Antonio, LA Clippers, LA Lakers and Dallas being the other 5) in the Western Conference, I see Memphis being an interesting and outright scary team for many come playoff team.
First, let's acknowledge Zach Randolph has missed most of the season with a torn MCL (knee) and is still probably several weeks away from returning.In Randolph's absence, Marc Gasol has become a legitimate All-Star making his first ever All-Star game this season. Gasol is averaging 15.4 points, 9.9 boards, 2.2 blocks and 3.2 assists. No, you did not read the assist column wrong. Rudy Gay is having a slightly off season that is somewhat explainable by the lockout season and Randolph's absence. On the other hand, Gay is averaging a career high of a 100DRtg by far his best of his career. So that's something. Marc Gasol currently has a 97 DRtg (by far a career low and 12th overall in the NBA this season) so you probably would not find it surprising that Memphis has a team DRtg of 100.2 points per 100 possessions (8th of 30), and an ORtg of 102.4 points per 100 possessions (19th of 30) at a pace of 91.4 possessions per game (16th of 30).
I haven't mentioned Mike Conley yet who has turned, rather quietly, into an upper echelon PG of a team that desperately needs Conley to get them into their offense most nights. Conley has per game averages of 13.6 points, 6.9 assists (11th in the NBA) and 2.6 steals (leads the NBA. Other than Ricky Rubio, who has 88 steals right now, nobody is within 10 steals of Conley right now. The man with the 3rd most steals is Andre Igoudala at 72 total thefts. Conley sits at 90. Which is how Mike Conley has an so-so ORtg of 109 but a terrific (especially for a PG) DRtg of 100.
What does this all add up to? Since I haven't mentioned Tony Allen, arguably the most valuable and effective perimeter defender in the NBA, I might as well mention that TA is a legitimate nut. Just follow TA's Twitter account if you want proof.
good just ain't good enough,,,, im woke ,, so its time 2 get better , and everything around me! not a complacent bone in my body!GNG
— Tony Allen (@aa000G9) March 1, 2012
Oh by the way, this is sane Tony Allen I might add. At any rate, Memphis has the chance to shut many opponents down with their size, and if they get their main offensive cog (Randolph) going with Rudy Gay, they will give every team in the NBA trouble.
Or do I need to remind you of the legendary game 4 from the Western Semi's last year?
Like everyone else, how does Memphis match up with Oklahoma City's perimeter firepower? Can they use their size to match up against the Mavericks, or the Lakers, counter the Clippers dynamic duo, or even the Spurs relentless attack?
We shall see. If the East is top heavy (and it is), the West is filled with a lot of contenders and teams with intriguing matchup possibilities that make the Western Conference Playoffs a rather daunting and stupendously challenging task to come out on top. Only a fool would miss it.
While the regular season may set the table for the playoffs, it's very likely the playoffs will top the excitement of the regular season. I, as a lowly Kings fan, am looking forward to quality basketball action.
Next up: The pretenders (that's tomorrow).