The world seems so excitedly upside down at the moment with the Lakers playing so bad and the Clippers starting to play well. I decided to find something else to keep me occupied while I waited for normality to return. So what did I do? I took a peek into my 100+ VHS tape stash to find something fun to write about. After inserting the first of the un-labelled tapes, I was disappointed to see that I’d recorded the movie “The Wash” at some point. Dr Dre is a genius and all, but my God that was an average film.
My eyes then spotted an old Video Store copy of “Big Momma’s House” starring Martin Lawrence. The anti-dubbing slot had been covered with adhesive tape. What would I have been so desperate to record that I would declare myself so open to a video store fine? Well, it was a Minnesota @ Cleveland game from what looked like about 2004. I saw KG hit a turn around jump shot over LeBron, smiled to myself and mentally noted the fun it will be to watch that at a later date.
Finally, I decided that three is a charm and inserted my final choice. I press PLAY and am wonderfully excited to find the 1998 Eastern Conference Final Game 7 between Indiana and Chicago. “I don’t guarantee anything, not even to my wife, but we’re going to win this game” says Mike.
Ah MJ… it’s good to have you back. Where’s the keys to my DeLorean?
With the starting lineups being displayed, I quickly beamed with excitement as I realised that this was the series where Scottie Pippen tore Mark Jackson a new church seat and that I could just yell “Momma there goes that MAN!” on every play.
Some things, (not many) are better than basketball and this is one of those things.
I was also quickly reminded of how many ridiculous fouls Luc Longley had called on him towards the end of his Bulls career. The NBA was lucky Luc didn’t have a Ron Artest-like devil on his left shoulder or Auburn Hills in 2004 would’ve looked like Ron Burgundy and Veronica Corningstone’s “pleasure town” interlude. The big Aussie just stood there with his arms straight up and was somehow at fault! It happened against Shawn Kemp in the ‘96 Finals too. Kemp had about 12-15 free throws in that series that were completely unwarranted.
Oh, the memories.
End of Q1: Pacers lead 27-19. I now open a beer, (knowing the Bulls win) and decide to take a new look at this game. I want to see in this Bulls team, where I want the improvement in the 2011 Lakers to come from. So now, the new mission truly begins. Firstly I’m not comparing Michael Jordan to Kobe Bryant, let’s just get that out the way from the start. I never have and never will. Different players, different time, blah blah blah, yada yada yada. But one thing is certain, the architecture of the teams is the same.
Kukoc wanders around the court like the robot guy from the Chappelle Show. I cannot accurately enough put into words how lost he looks in all aspects of the game so far other than when he shoots the ball. Even Scottie high fives “at” him when they rejoice, if you can call it that. Toni even has the audacity to complain for fouls on nearly every shot attempt inside the arc. You just don’t command any respect from the referees when you argue on EVERY call.
Here’s my first point; Pau and Odom especially need to “man up” and play tougher. No more whining on every inside play. No more yelling on EVERY shot attempt from inside the paint. This must stop immediately unless they dunk on someone with the foul. This can also apply to Derek Fisher and Kobe. Less whining, more intensity.
Back to the action…
Steve Kerr hits a big three and then plays hard on defense to secure a steal for the Bulls. It’s his physical defense that doesn’t allow any easy post entry passes. In the space of three minutes, Kerr has not only secured two contested defensive boards but he has hit one open three and just as importantly been wide open for two others. With approximately six minutes of game time under his belt, Kerr has got eight points on 2 for 2 from behind the arc.
My second point; This is where the Blake’s, the Brown’s and most importantly the Fisher’s can flourish. We always say defense creates offense but this is just poetry in motion. Momentum is arguably the most important weapon in a team’s arsenal and especially for the Lakers at Staples Center. If the currently anemic Laker guards commit themselves to tough physical defense and hustle, everyone who has ever followed this sport will know what comes next. Open looks, big shots and crowd frenzies/silences depending on the location of the game.
For the record, Travis Best is just killing the Bulls off the dribble at this point. Bulls coach Phil Jackson hasn’t made a change and Kerr is now hoping for help defense like a freshman nerd in a school cafeteria. Very much like today’s Lakers’ inability to cover quick guards. Interesting.
End of Q2: Bulls lead 48-45. Why the turnaround? Hustle.
I’ve just seen offensive put-backs, offensive tips, kicked ball violations and no complaining to the refs. Jordan waits until the half-time buzzer sounds to give referee Hugh Evans a spray but he makes his heated point and moves on. Good leadership without over-stepping the line. In fairness though, there’s no league-imposed “no referee confrontation” rule in this game. Good ol’ 1998, where the league’s brightest star can yell four shades of hell through a referee and not be penalized in any way.
The third quarter is just another great advertisement for hustle, strong rebounding and great screening and shooting on the offensive end. Kukoc has nailed 14 points in the third and has complained for a foul on all but two made shots. Reggie Miller and Rik Smits have more chemistry on baseline screens than Arnold Jackson and Mr Drummond. Just a great quarter of hoops. Jordan has picked up four defensive boards in this quarter including two contested against Dale Davis.
End of Q3: Bulls lead 69-65.
The real players stand up in the 4th, it’s as simple as that. The Pacers start out strong and MJ is cooking an 0 for 8 field goal stew. The drought is ended with a driving dunk on Rik Smits, I guess the world does move to the beat of just one drum. Mike’s drum.
Jordan has shot 9 of 24 from the field and 8 for 11 from the line for his 26 points. These are the same numbers that people ridicule Kobe Bryant for almost nightly. It’s funny how that happens, although it’s the intangibles that set Mike apart here. The rebounding, the intensity, the drive and dish, the unwavering demonstration of excellence.
Kerr takes a charge on Travis Best. Is Phil Jackson a motivational genius here? Or just lucky?
The game is won in the final two minutes and whose fingerprints are all over the win? Scottie Pippen, Michael Jordan, and some guys named ‘rebounding’, ‘defensive pressure’ and ‘aggression’. The Bulls finish with 22 offensive rebounds to Indiana’s 7. It all comes down to hustle, determination and the belief that beating your opponent isn’t necessarily about scoring more than your opposition, it’s about stopping your opponent from scoring more than you. Memo to the Lakers, watch this game as it is exactly what you have to do to win the 2011 NBA Championship.
This could be said for other teams like Orlando, San Antonio, Miami or Boston. The thing is, they all have their respective plans and are executing the way they should. Even with trades, injuries and the like they are still getting the job done. The Lakers meanwhile have just dropped three straight games by 15 points for only the 5th time in franchise history.
I know we’ve seen this before from the Los Angeles Lakers, with the regular season being just a warm up. The trouble with that theory is that this season sees the most genuine competition for the championship in years. No need to panic I suppose as 21-10 isn’t that bad but there’s one thing the Lakers are going to need come playoff time and that’s their home court. Winning in San Antonio does not come easy to the Lakers, no matter what their roster looks like and to do it in May will be even harder.
That being said, if this lack of focus and intensity continues it will most likely be a Dallas vs San Antonio Western Conference Final and I will have to shoot myself.
VHS Gods, if you’re out there? Thank you for this gift today. It was much needed and much appreciated.