Why, every year, do people fall for this?
Back in December Lakers fans were freaking out — and the rest of the league hoped they were right — because something seemed off about the Lakers. They weren’t bad, but the two-time defending champions were not dominating everyone, were not focused, were not defending, were not healthy and were not turning water into wine as their fans expect. Meanwhile the Spurs and Mavericks were steamrolling everyone in their path. People started working on their epitaphs for the Lakers tombstones.
But scouts warned us back then that it was really about the Lakers, not their opponents. If the Lakers got it together, they were the class of the West and maybe again the class of the NBA.
Well, the Lakers have got it together.
The Lakers are 13-1 since the All-Star break and have been the best team in the league. They are focused, they are defending, they are healthy (relatively) and they have the swagger that champions can bring.
And they remind us that bigger is better.
Or as our own Matt Moore tweeted after the Lakers beat the revamped Mavericks recently, it’s not just the sheer length of the Lakers front line, but the skill.
Basically, the lesson from this game is: You can add all the size depth you want but it doesn’t matter if none of it is as good as LA’s.
Sure, there is Kobe Bryant, and he will do Kobe Bryant things. He will get his 20-plus points and take some bad shots (and make a number of them). He will dominate the ball late in games.
But it is the Lakers size and skill that sets them apart. Bigger is better in basketball. Every one of their three key big men is at least 6’10” and with a crazy wingspan.
Andrew Bynum is the defensive anchor — the Lakers have him playing back and work at funneling penetration to him, forcing a pass or a shot over his long wingspan. He also can be a beast on the offensive glass and has a respectable jump hook. For scoring they have Pau Gasol, the most fundamentally sound big man in the game — he has the best footwork of any big in the Association, can score effectively with either hand and is probably the best passer out of the high post in the league. Then there is Lamar Odom, the likely NBA Sixth Man of the Year who is having a career season. He’s the tallest point forward in the league who can score in the post or lead the break off the dribble.
Or look at it this way: Odom has a PER of 20, Bynum 21.6 and Gasol 23.4. (For the uninitiated, PER is a measure of basketball impact and efficiency.)
Not since the NBA/ABA merger in the mid 1970s. No team has had three forwards/centers with PERs that high. No team has had three big men having seasons like this, three big men who can change the game on the offensive end with their skills.
Bigger is better. It is impossible for other teams to match up with. And that is the reason that for all the drama in December, taking the Larry O’Brien trophy away from the Lakers is going to be monumentally difficult.
Maybe next December people won’t fall for this… but probably not.