Monday, December 20, 2010

Straight From The Rook #12

Mat MacDonald AKA The Rook The Rook is currently enrolled in Human Kinetics at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. A frequent contributor to all NBA and Raptors debates along with other sports. Witty, quick and never afraid of a challenge, Mat's here to talk hoops with you and dish out his two cents whenever!

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Kobe, Kobe, Pau...

They say that everything in life happens for a reason. JFK said it best. “Things do
not happen. Things are made to happen.”

Well, nearing the end of the 2010 portion of the schedule a lot of things are happening that were supposed to happen, and a lot of things have gone down that maybe werenʼt as expected. It seems like the last few weeks all Iʼve been doing is grading teams, players and owners on their job - of lack of - in bringing their team closer to a ring.

There are some things in life that weʼre not always able to do. Thankfully Iʼve been blessed with a ton of opportunities and chances to do things that even I never imagined Iʼd ever get a chance to do and Iʼm still young - Iʼd like to think.

A few days ago we dropped that the Lakers were hot even if they werenʼt sitting atop the Western Conference standings. The main reasons theyʼre hot were simple:

Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol.

Once again I was blessed yesterday, getting my first real look at these Lakers in a game. My take on the team they consider as one of the best to every graze the hardwood?


Breaking down the Lakers is hard. Maybe it was a bit easier since they played Toronto, but still, it was hard. They have one of the best coaches to ever sit in an elevated chair in the history of the NBA. Sure heʼs got a bad hip, a frustration for little mistakes and at times an overwhelming presence towards officials, but Phil Jackson is hands down the best coach to ever hold a clipboard.

Jacksonʼs the starting piece for the Lakers. Heʼs what makes the show go on and run smoothly. Without him, well thereʼs a lot of paths this team could go down. Throughout the game yesterday it seemed that the Raptors had no answer for any type of offensive set L.A. ran.

If Toronto turned to the zone, the motion of the Lakers offense was too much for the Raptors to recover on.

Regardless of how good their rotations were there was no way that Toronto could cover every option. That leads me to the next point: The Lakers have so many options outside of Bryant and Gasol. Yes, Ron Artest had an off day, but that was to be expected since the game was dominated by outside shooting and Artest is known more for his defensive/inside game.

But even with the lack of the wacky Artest, players like Matt Barnes and Steve Blake proved to be Raptor killers. Barnes finished with 12 points hitting two big threes from behind the arc, while Blake finished with two of his own only netting six points. Every time Toronto made a push to bring the game down to single digits, Barnes or Blake had an answer. And whoʼs to talk about killers without mentioning Shannon Brown?

The kid went off, again. 14 points in 19 minutes is nothing to shake your head about and itʼs just something that the Lakers and their fans have come to realize. Thereʼs not one player on the bench that canʼt come in the game and make an impact in some positive way.

Another big key for the Lakersʼ success is in the paint. Iʼve seen a lot of bigs in my time, Iʼve witnessed Tim Duncan, Shaq, Dwight Howard, you name it, Iʼve seen him. But the work that Pau Gasol put in last night was almost perfect. There may not be another big in the game thatʼs as good as him right now all-around, including Howard.

The skill in the paint that Gasol has, along with his length makes him almost impossible to guard.
Add Andrew Bynum to the mix off the bench and youʼre really in trouble if you donʼt have a surplus of bigs on your bench. The constant rotation of Odom, Gasol and Bynum last night was too much for Toronto to overcome, and understandably so. But when you think that the Lakers make a push nearly every season towards the finals, it makes perfect sense why even with Kobe not scoring 40+ per game, the Lakers are still dominant.

Finally, how can you forget Kobe Bryant? Perhaps the most impressive aspect of his game is his post play. Forget everything that he does with the ball on the wing.

Everyone knows Kobe can shake anyone on any given night, itʼs a given. But the fact that he can turn his back to the basket and take almost any player regardless of size in the post is unbelievable. Watching the developing DeMar DeRozan try to work with Bryant last night was at times painful as a Raptors fan, but mystical as a hoops fan.

Kobeʼs precise. Almost too precise. Every movement has a plan, every action as a counter if one option is blocked off. The man has his game down to a point. But, why wouldnʼt he? Heʼs considered one of the best of all time - and now, I believe it.

The ongoing debate in this age will be whoʼs better, LeBron or Kobe? My observation from last night was simple after seeing both play:

- LeBron is too big for the league. Heʼs got the body of a post player, the speed of a guard and the elusiveness that even Houdini didnʼt posses. If you canʼt body up, you canʼt guard LeBron.

- Kobe does his best to get you off your feet. Heʼs not going to do anything flashy thatʼs going to make you fall or flip, but the combination of head-fakes and back to the basket moves makes him almost impossible to guard too.

So who does it go to?

Both players are unbelievable, and awards and championships aside, thereʼs no doubt that both of them are on another level than the rest of the league. What Kobe has to top LeBron, LeBron matches with size and athleticism. What Bron has in the strength department, Kobe shakes off with a post-up move.

All in all, there is no better. But as a fan and a lover of the game, I feel blessed as Iʼm sure every other viewer does on a nightly basis to see such an art being displayed at such a high level.


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