Wednesday, January 14, 2009

At Center Court with Forum Blue and Gold

Kurt from Forum Blue and Gold is busy these days. His most recent obsession is the low top. He spends most of his free time worrying about its ability to protect the ankle from injury. He wants to know, what crazed lunatic suggested that Kobe Bryant wear a sneaker that will result in at least one hobbled-ankle, Willis Reed-like Kobe Bryant memory? Did his wife put him up to it? Is this some crazy Phil Jackson voodoo? Is this Phil Knight's mad scientist gone senile moment? We'll have to wait and see. We don't have to wait for Kurt, however. His answers to our questions are ready to roll.

TV: The Lakers are a cut above the rest of the Western Conference. Even with injuries, they appear to be on track for the Finals. Setting aside the obvious answer--an injury to one of their core players--what is the single biggest risk/circumstance that would prevent this from happening?
FBG: It's hard to leave out injuries for fans — how much better would the Spurs have been last playoffs with a healthy Manu?

But to be true to your question and think outside injuries, I still think there are some very good teams in the West besides the Lakers. I think that starts with the Spurs, you guys have added some youth and depth that was lacking last year (we Laker fans all thought Hill would fall deep into the second round and at our blog we talked a lot about getting him). I really think right now the Spurs are second best in the West, with New Orleans right there as well, and Denver certainly is a more mature team with Billups at the helm.

I will add, the one team that scares me if they could ever get healthy and get their heads on right is Houston. On paper, that team could be dynamite, but the odds of them pulling it all together seem slim, don't they? One in 20, maybe? But still, if they do…

All that said, right now I think your basic premise is correct — all things being equal, I'm not sure there's a team in the West that can knock off the Lakers this year. But, things are never always equal.
TV: It seems to me that Kobe Bryant is phasing into his late MJ with the Bulls period. That is, he's gone from being unstoppably explosive to unstoppably calculated. You remember, I'm sure, that Jordan's post and fade game became signature and the highlight reel dunks began to diminish in the mid 90s. Do you agree that Kobe is heading in this direction, and, if so, what do see becoming the staple move of his arsenal?
FBG: That is a very insightful theory. And certainly, Kobe does not explode to the rim quite like he used to — that said he'll still exploit the mismatch and blow by people to the hole for dunks. But now you see a lot more jumpers, and he can hit those from anywhere on the floor. I think he has three fallback moves to create space. The first is the jab step, he loves to throw that and because you still have to respect his ability to drive that works well. The second is the way head fake, he throws that all the time and it's very effective. He also will draw the foul with the arm swing-through — he has the ball on one side of his body and shows it to the defender by swinging it in front of him and if you lean in he goes up and draws the contact. He gets to the line as well as ever.
TV: Who concerns you more, the Celtics or the Cavs?
FBG: The Cavs. First and foremost — have you seen LeBron lately. Not only is he MVP, he is looking like the best player since MJ. In a seven game series he could win at least two just because he goes off. Everyone talks about the Celtics defense, but the Cavs play pretty good defense, too. And they match up well with the Lakers. They have a good point guard, something we don't defend well. And they have bigs that can step away from the basket a little and hit a jumper, which messes with the defensive system the Lakers play.

Ask me again in April and I may feel different, but right now it's the Cavs that scare me as a Lakers fan. But the idea of marketing a Kobe/LeBron final must be David Stern's wet dream.
For more Spurs-Lakers love, check out Forum Blue and Gold's Game Preview and Chat. Graydon will be around later today with a longer reflection on the Spurs-Lakers rivalry. Check back for that. The game is on ESPN, tonight at 9.

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