Sunday, May 4, 2008

Thoughts on Round 2: Lakers Vs. Non-Musical Jazz

This will not be a series. Let's be quite honest. It's interesting that the West came down to such a ridiculously intense race towards the end, because really, the West is pretty clearly tiered. There's one group at the top, comprised of LA, San Antonio, and New Orleans. There's a flawed, but capable level of the Mavericks (or at least the hybrid incarnation of this year without Kidd and next year with Kidd), Utah, and the Suns, who are either talented but fundamentally flawed, or fundamentally sound but not especially talented. Guess which one of those Utah is? And finally you have Golden State and the Rockets, who are dangerous, but not lethal in any way. Somewhere, way, way, way down on that list you have the Nuggets, a pathetic farce of a playoff team that benefited from from preying on weaker teams and Golden State's inability to keep its combustible core cooled effectively.

When you get into the NBA blogging world, you find yourself surprised by some fanbases. Some are exactly what you expect (Boston). Others are surprisingly confident, yet realist and honest (New Orleans). And some are so unbelievably positive about themselves, you want to ruffle their hair and say "Sure you can win a championship, kiddo. Sure you can!"

Utah Jazz fans are one such fanbase.

This entire year I have listened to the "No one's talking about the Jazz! What about the Jazz! Look out for the Jazz!"talk. My own partner is a Jazz supporter, based on their star being Carlos Boozer, and he a gigantic Duke fan. I've heard "They have more talent than you think they do!"over and over again. Of course, Corn stops short of the most ridiculous of all sentiments. My personal favorite:

"Deron Williams is better than Chris Paul."

Oh, Utah. Sure he is, kiddo. Sure he is.

I had every confidence in Utah dismissing the Rockets, and figured they would do it in 6. I figured they would do it in less than that after the first two games. But then, just as always, Utah managed a way to remind everyone paying attention that for all their individual assets that can shine from time to time, for their Hall of Fame coach, for their lunatic fanbase, they are still just a B-level team. They lost games they shouldn't have, in the one place they were supposed to dominate to a team who's starting point guard was only at about 60%. Let's be clear. Games 1, 2, and 6 would have been completely different with a healthy Rafer Alston. Utah looked impressive in Game 6 in terms of shooting, but as I always have to remind people, shooting comes and goes. In the end, the Rockets didn't have Yao, didn't have Rafer, and in that situation, a team that rebounds consistently and is hot from the arc can beat them easily. So the Utah Jazz can clearly beat the Houston Rockets.

The Los Angeles Lakers are in no way the Houston Rockets.

The matchups all fall into danger, danger territory for the Jazz in this series. Mehmet Okur, who could bully and pester the Rockets' kiddies, is going to have a little more trouble with Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom. He can score as much as he wants. The Lakers aren't concerned about him if they shut down Williams and Boozer. The Jazz rely on killer rebounding to create second chance shots. The Lakers don't care. Look at the game 1 differential. The Jazz had 17 more offensive rebounds. 17. They had 17 more looks off the glass. And they lost by 11.

The Jazz shot 38% from the field. Now, rest assured, the Lakers are not a bad defensive team. They are a good defensive team. But they have serious, serious lapses, especially against "good teams." And instead, the Jazz got annihilated.

Here's the weird thing. I tend to throw out hot and cold shooting streaks. And with the Lakers shooting 50% from three point range and the Jazz shooting 21%, you'd figure I'd be ready to bury the Lakers like everyone loves saying I do.


There are back courts that could destroy LA. Two of them are currently beating the crap out of each other in the other Western Conference series. But Utah's? Deron Williams is a great player. There's no doubt about it. But in Game 1, Derek Fisher kind of, sort of, ate his lunch. Then he took the lunchbox and threw it over the fence. Then he threw Deron through the fence so his face ended up face-first into his leftover pudding, which of course, Fisher had ate and thoroughly enjoyed. All of this and Derek Fisher still only scored 5 points. Jordan Farmar? 0. But who needs it when you've got #24 on your side? Or should I say #MVP?

Look, I'm a tangibles kind of guy. I like specific talents against specific talents. I like numbers and stats and efficiencies and effective field goal % and road and home records and systems versus styles.

But there are certain intangibles I subscribe to. And one of them is that teams that consistently win, teams that can win championships, have that "thing." They have a certain level of excellence that they can achieve that others can't. If you're looking for the definition of lacking "it," take a look at Tracy McGrady. Don't get me wrong. I don't blame Tracy for first round misery. If he'd made it out of the first round and gotten swept by LA, would it have been any better? No. He'd just have a new ceiling to contend with.

But the Jazz don't have "it." They didn't have it last year, either. They beat a talented but misguided Rockets team, caught a lucky break when the Warriors went on their Kamikaze run against the Mavs, because no team matches up better with Golden State than Utah. It's psychotic abolition of fundamentals against pure fundamentals. And then they ran into a team with "it." And that was just brutal.

I'm not saying Utah can't win a game here and there. They might push this thing to 6. And in the comfy confines of the "One Team, One Dream" crazies, it might be enough to push Game 7. But Game 7. At Staples. Against Kobe. This season?

Not bloody likely.

The Lakers are like a fashion show on offense. It's beautiful, if slightly bizarre, with Radmanovic and Vujacic looking like clutch shooters with the defense frantically trying to collapse on the big three in the paint. There's lot of camera bulbs flashing and poster shots, lots of Vujacic fist pumps and Kobe screams. But most importantly is this. The Lakers get the shots they want this year, not the ones you let them have.

Utah lacks the ability to defensively determine their shots.

All of this is a fancy way of saying, "Lakers in Five."

I don't want Utah fans to think that I dismiss them. On the contrary, Utah is the kind of team I live for. We don't run this here contraption to celebrate the front runner that gets a miracle trade to boost them to the top. Nor do we do it for a cold, hard look at the facts about what works and what doesn't. We live and die with the potential of teams. The very name of this blog comes from the concept of some uncontrollable release of emotion that either is the result of, or cause of the realization of potential. And Utah can jump. Maybe they'll do it in the next 6 games. But what does need to happen is for Jazz players and fans to stop patting themselves on the back for owning the Rockets and posting a good home record. You want to be great? You truly want to be great?

Go ahead then. The floor is yours.

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