Just how good are the Lakers? Ask again in a week.

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Has anyone figured out these Lakers?

Last year’s Lakers had the swagger and game of a champion from the start (despite some in-season lapses). These Lakers are much harder to figure out — they beat the Celtics in Boston, but lose to the Cavaliers. Pau Gasol is Black Swan and White Swan. Andrew Bynum’s focus is spotty.

Sure, Los Angeles playing well since the All-Star break, but does even Jack Nicholson have confidence they will carry this through to the playoffs?

As for what Phil Jackson thinks of this team… ask him again in a week after this four-game road trip.

The Lakers start Sunday in San Antonio against the best team in the NBA (just ask the Heat). Then the trip goes to Atlanta, Miami and Dallas. Jackson told ESPNLosAngeles this trip will define his team.

“This trip is really like a make-or-break point of the season for us,” Jackson said before the Bobcats game. “If we play really well on this road trip, we have a chance to do things. If we don’t, we’ll settle in and assume that we’re fighting for either second or third place, hopefully.”

This is Jackson playing his motivation mind games with the Lakers. He’s not even being subtle about it. This is the push to the playoffs, and they need these wins to move up out of third in the West and fourth overall in the league (with the Bulls and Heat just half a game back of them). It’s about home court in the playoffs, and he needs his team to be focused now. They can catch Dallas and Boston (2.5 games back) and have maybe the second best record heading into the playoffs. (They will not make up the 7.5 games they are behind the Spurs.)

This is a real test for the Lakers, we will learn something. Maybe they have found their stride. If not, the questions about them beating the Spurs or any contender out of the East become a lot harder to answer.

Scottie Pippen on LeBron James, Michael Jordan: “It’s not a fair comparison”

AP
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The battle has, stupidly, raged on between supporters of Michael Jordan and LeBron James. Both sides seem to believe their preference is irrefutably the choice for the best player in NBA history.

And because they did not play in the same era, the question will never be answered. No doubt in 50 years they will write columns about Jordan vs. LeBron, just like their fathers, and their father’s fathers before them.

James has certainly seemed to take a bit of a leap in the eyes of the NBA community this season, likely because of his wonderful performance at age 33. He’s also single-handedly won two playoff series this year. It’s been incredible.

But LeBron rising above Jordan has also brought out some more reasonable takes. Former Chicago Bulls legend and Jordan running mate Scottie Pippen spoke up recently about the debate, giving a measured analysis that I think is pretty strong.

In short, Pippen basically said you can’t compare the two because of the eras, the style, and the fact they just don’t play the same position (if LeBron even has a position, that is).

Via Twitter:

That sounds right to me.

Cavaliers’ Kendrick Perkins not into “all that new stuff” like Chewbacca

Getty Images
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Chewbacca was at Game 3 in Cleveland Saturday. Sitting courtside.

Why? Because growing up on Kashyyyk he played a little hoop and admires LeBron James‘ skill? Because Drake gave him the tickets? Maybe. I mean, it’s not like that was just a clever little publicity stunt for a movie.

After the Cavaliers’ win, Kevin Love decided to make a little joke of it with noted humorist Kendrick Perkins, and it went over as well as expected (with Dave McMenamin of ESPN catching it).

That’s vintage Perkins.

Celtics’ Terry Rozier on Game 3: “We needed to get our butts whooped”

Associated Press
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Cleveland dominated Game 3 Saturday night. They played harder, to start. The Cavaliers’ defensive pressure on the ball was better, they were sharper rotating out to shooters and covering passing lanes. Cleveland’s role players stepped up and helped LeBron James.

Boston, meanwhile, wilted in the face of that pressure Saturday, something it has done a few times on the road these playoffs. The Celtics got away from the things that got them to the Eastern Conference Finals. Guard Terry Rozier put it more bluntly, via A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston:

“I feel like we needed this (loss) to get us back … to get us ready for Monday,” Rozier said.

Rozier later added, “We needed to get our butts whipped. Come back to reality and take care of business on Monday.”

Cleveland is a championship team — from LeBron James on down through the core guys, they all have rings. They have been down before, and heading home it was expected they would play with force. Cleveland’s back was against the wall and they responded.

From the Celtics’ perspective, they also got a little too fat and happy and were not ready for what the Cavaliers came with in Game 3.

Now the pressure is on Boston to push back, to get back to their level of execution and do it under pressure. Make the Cavaliers prove the improved defensive effort was not a one-off game. The Celtics must move the ball and play with some pace, then see if the Cavaliers can keep it together in the face of crisp play.

When this series heads back to Boston Wednesday, it will either see the Celtics in control up 3-1, or the series will be a best of three (with the Cavs still having to figure out if they can win on the road). At home, the Cavaliers are going to play with force again and have some depth. We’ll see if Game 3 was enough of a wakeup call for Boston.

PBT Extra: Can Rockets take Game 2 energy, execution on the road?

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Houston found its blueprint to beating Golden State in Game 2: Strong defensive pressure on the ball, quick switches and communication on defense, getting out in transition when possible, and starting sets earlier in the shot clock and attacking downhill with James Harden and Chris Paul.

Now can they do that on the road? Against a more focused and sharper Warriors’ team?

That will be the question in the next two games of the Western Conference Finals, and it’s what I discuss in this latest PBT Extra.