Friday, 27 May 2011

Bulls' season ends with 83-80 defeat

That's the season folks. The Chicago Bulls lost their do-or-die Game 5 83-80 to the Miami Heat in the United Center. With it, the Miami Heat won the Eastern Conference Finals 4-1 to progress to the 2011 NBA Finals, where they will face Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks.

A game that the Bulls had to win but didn't. The game turned out to be a microcosm of this entire season for Chicago. It started off as usual with the Bulls falling behind early as they came out of the blocks nervy and gave up a handful of early fast-break buckets to James in particular. Then the comeback started as Chicago's notoriously tough and active defense turned up and dragged the team kicking and screaming to a 7 point lead at half-time. All looked good. Derrick Rose was getting into the lane and to the free throw line. Luol Deng's shots were falling and Boozer's defense was not being exposed.

The second half did not change much with Chicago extending the lead thanks to the bench unit doing some heavy work. Kurt Thomas checked in for 4 points and 8 rebounds to steady the ship as Noah and Boozer picked up fouls. The momentum in the game really changed with a Carlos Boozer flagrant foul with 2:43 remaining in the 3rd quarter. Lebron James was driving to the basket from the left sideline when Boozer, late on coming across, mushed James across the jaw with his arm as he appeared to go for the ball. Against a non-star player, that would be a debatable flagrant. Against James that is a no-brainer. Boozer got the whistle, James made two free-throws. When the Heat went to inbound the ball from the sideline following the flagrant, another foul was called that sent Miami to the line for another two. Finally, Noah and Boozer were fighting 3 Heat players for a loose ball when a foul was called on Boozer for clearing out - replays showed that this was one of the worst calls of the game as there was marginal contact that deserved a foul. Taj Gibson was then tagged with a Technical foul and thus another free-throw given away that ended up with the Heat attempting 8 free throws over the final 2:30 of the third quarter.

It still looked good for Chicago to get the win and possibly turn the momentum of the series in their favour deep into the 4th quarter as Chicago had a 10 point lead at 77-67. Then the season fell apart for the Bulls as the Heat defense stepped up a level. Deng scored just 2 points all 4th quarter, a season-long issue that has hurt Chicago against a Heat defense that demands scores on virtually every possession. Carlos Boozer, "second scoring option" when he was signed in July sat the entire 4th as he turned in a stinker: 5pts and 6 rebounds. With a 12-pt lead late in the 4th, Bulls' coach Thibodeau felt that his defensive lineup could get the job done. This wasn't to be the case as the Heat erased the lead in just a handful of plays: Wade and James both completed 3-pt plays before Wade made a 3 and was fouled, scoring a 4th point off the free-throw. Ronnie Brewer split two free throws to make the lead 3 before James hit back-to-back threes to tie and then take the lead as no Bulls player could hit a shot late. Rose had two free-throws to tie the game but missed the second. It would be unfair to pin the loss on that missed free-throw because games are long enough that it should never come down to a one-point shot with 25seconds to play.

Thibodeau then showed his own inexperience as he sent Rose into an isolation against Wade, followed by Lebron double-teaming him against the sideline as the clock ticked to zero. Rose had to force the three up and was blocked by James as the buzzer sounded on Chicago's season. While it could be argued that refereeing decisions cost the Bulls this game, that would be excusing another dismal fourth quarter effort in which the Heat scored 26 points.

Let the off-season begin.

I will be previewing the 2011 NBA Finals, between the Dallas Mavericks and Miami Heat, over the weekend.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Let's kill another Heat fan!

Okay. This guy owes me a new laptop. When I read this article, I spat my morning coffee all over the it.

Which means it deserves a soul-destroying break-down.

While I feel that Celtics fans are amongst the highest echelon of douchiness, they are true fans and devoted to their team - thus the Garden is one of the hardest places to play on the road.  But Bulls fans are just plain sad. They only cheer when their team is winning and only support their team when there is someone named Rose or Jordan on the team.  Not to mention the absolute arrogance in comparing this season to MJ's years and thinking that they would just roll right over the Heat.  No having the slightest bit of respect for the fact that the Heat a really good team and bound to put up a fight - not just roll over in acceptance of defeat.  That being said...there are so many other reasons to be embarrassed.
"Bulls fans...only support their team when there is someone named Rose or Jordan on it." Instant lack of any sort of knowledge. The United Center in Chicago has been sold out 500+ consecutive home games. That includes the years of finishing well out of the Playoff places, lottery picks and all of Scott Skiles teams.

"Not having the slightest bit of respect for the fact that the Heat are a really good team..." Any Heat fan who knows a real Bulls fan would not be able to say this. I for one have always argued that this series would go to 6 or most likely 7 games and I could not comfortably pick a winner. These two teams are so equally great defensively it comes down to whether Rose and the Bulls' depth was enough to beat Miami's top-heavy rotation.

Take the team for example.  Noah is a raging idiot on the court.  Running around making faces, acting as though he is having a fight with a girlfriend.  Not to mention that he is a sad and pouting little girl when the team is behind on the sidelines and needs other players to cheer him up and prevent him from crying on national television.  And he is a one trick pony...take away his rebound-tip ins and he is rendered worthless.  He only knows how to play well in games that they are ahead.  When they start loosing, he looses heart.
95% of NBA experts, pundits and announcers have long praised Noah's energy and enthusiasm. His pride in defense fuels his team-mates own performances. He certainly is a love-or-hate personality and I can fully understand why he can be so infuriating. But to call him a one-trick pony is absurd. He's a Center. A defensive specialist. Of course his offense is limited and no Bulls fan can argue otherwise. His jump shot is butt ugly and his post play isn't top class. But all he needs to do is get 10-14 points on tip ins and layups to be useful for this Bulls team.
Carlos Boozer...the star free agent acquisition.  The guy disappears in any game where he has to try and help the team overcome a deficit.  Not to meantion that he is always screaming.  He makes one basket and he start yelling "Yeah, come on, let's go..." it could be 1 foul shot in the first 30 seconds of the game and he starts running around like a crazed idiot.
So this is the only paragraph of this entire bile-filled rant that I can agree with. I hate Boozer when he goes for a layup. All I hear is "yaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrr" and then a miss. I would much rather he went up and scored before celebrating. That would be acceptable. I'm beginning to think the signing of Boozer was a big mistake given how shocking he has been at trying to contain Chris Bosh in this series.
 Taj Gibson: wow! Idiot of epic caliber. This guy makes one dunk, albeit a really good one, I will give him credit, but now he runs around as if he made the David Tyree catch in the Super Bowl.  Let's not forget, this wasn't a game winning shot, but yet he carries himself for the next 3 days as if he tied the game with seconds left or he has just been overpowering Magic Johnson-type athletes for years and no one noticed.  Now in the last game, he was like a guy that scored a really clutch TD in a high school game but is now 35 and is still telling the story over and over again and has a picture of the play that he shows  everyone every single chance he gets.  Last night, this guy scores one 4 foot jumper, with the Bulls STILL behind, not a go-ahead shot or even a game tying shot...then he runs done the court as if he just won the championship single-handedly, screaming and flapping his arms.  He always has a look on his face like he is looking for the guy that just slapped his girlfriend.  He is a bench player, that's it...yet he thinks he is the next coming of Patrick Ewing.  SO SAD!!!
Sour grapes right here. Taj Gibson put this writer's hero Dwyane Wade on the mother of all posters. The guy is a bench player who knows he just pulled off the dunk of his career. Give him his moment to celebrate. He knew what it meant to the home crowd to dunk over Wade, hated in Chicago. "He was like a guy.....still telling the story over and over again." Last I checked, Taj Gibson didn't personally put the video on every major sports highlights website/program in the US. He didn't make is own name trend on twitter for 3 days.
Now as for the team as a whole: here is an apt description.  Slap, push, pull, grab FOUL as much as possible and just see how far it goes or hope the ref doesn't see and just hope you get away with it.  It was absolutely sad. 
This describes Miami just as much as it does Chicago. The only way any team has been able to stop a fast-moving Derrick Rose has been to turn into Edward Scissorhands when he goes past, chopping and hacking at his arms and wrists. James is the worst offender for fouling without getting the call against him. It has been 59 games since James fouled 4 times. It has been more than 70 since his last 5-foul game. That is how much he gets away with.
There was point that Asik was pulling on Wade's shorts, you could se them stretched, and no call because it was away from the play.  Wade drives the lane and he gets "blocked" by call.  No contact? For God's sake...there was blood drawn. 
Wade was bleeding, correct. Asik had to leave the game because he was bleeding too.
The entire Bull's team fouls on every single play and just pushes further and further until they finally get called.  
 So the entire Bulls team fouls every play? That's an interesting theory. If true then our team would have fouled out of every game so far as the Heat's free-throw advantage has been huge in a couple of the games of this series. Yet the Bulls have not fouled out. They may get away with a few more fouls than they should. This is the Playoffs at the end of the day, you cannot give easy points away at this late stage of the season, especially against either Miami's or Chicago's top-notch defenses.
You call it hustle or energy, everyone else would just call it cheap.  Not to mention, they put up brick after brick and just hope that Boozer or Noah will be there to tip it in by throwing elbows or pushing the opposing defense trying to get a rebound.
 Again, 95% would call it hustle and energy. Our defensive strengths are very similar to those of Miami: namely being able to stay in front of opponents using speed, and closing out on shooters quickly. Both teams are near identical in this.
Finally, Derrick Rose.  I will not for one second say he sucks or has no talent.  He is amazing...but a one trick pony.  He drives to the basket and usually makes some amazing shots, but he has a low percentage of makes. 
If this person here had watched at least 10 Bulls' games this season, then he would know the reason for Rose's poor Field-Goal %. He simply has no help. The defense of each team he faces loads all their best on him, forcing him to take many low-percentage shots per game. The number of plays where he passes to a team-mate to make a shot only to get the ball back where he doesn't want it is very high. This is a problem this Bulls team has been able to get around in the Regular Season as defenses were not as intense on shutting Rose down. In the Playoffs, this weakness has been exposed and humiliated by Miami. They have shown up the Bulls as having very few reliable scorers.
The second Rose even looks down the lane or thinks about driving the lane, the refs take a deep inhale in anticipation of blowing their whistle for a foul.  The sheer moment he even smells like a layup is coming, you can hear a whistle starting, before even the first dribble. 
 Unlike Lebron James, who never ever gets the call. Never shoots a free throw, never looks at the referees when he misses with a "where's my foul" face on? Never. Neither does Wade who, when he is not scoring, spends his time either lying on the floor or shouting at the referees.
He won't make the shot, starts walking to the foul line anticipating the 2 free throws coming.  Doesn't even have to make the shot, maybe he isn't even trying sometimes.  All things being equal, when he IS on a roll, I have sen few players better, but his reputation as an MVP is also derived from his ability to get the refs involved on his side.
 Every single pro sports player tries to manipulate referees. The ones who are successful tend to be successful because they know what they are doing. Rose does look for contact as he rightly should. Wade pump fakes, gets his man into the air and steps into him as he lands on Wade's shoulders. This is clearly trying to win a foul but it is perfectly legal and accepted.

There's the breakdown. Check back over the weekend where I will either be breaking down a Bulls comeback or their elimination!

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Mike Brown: New LA Lakers Head Coach?

Mike Brown is but a signature away from sitting in the single hottest seat in world sport. If the reports are correct, the former Cleveland Cavaliers coach will be Phil Jackson's successor in Tinseltown.

Mike Brown: Future Lakers coach?
This came as a huge "what on earth" moment to myself and many other NBA followers. Mike Brown was the coach who failed to deliver a title with a Cleveland team that, at the time, looked for all the money like it should have won at least one. Mike Brown led James' team into the Playoffs several times, however his record is hardly awe-inspiring. 3 first-round defeats. 1 exit in the Conference Finals to an Orlando Magic team that managed two 10-point wins over the Cavs. The Cavaliers made it to the Finals once, where they were swept aside 4-0 by the San Antonio Spurs. Lebron James was the central player of that team and although the pieces around him were not the best, they were good enough to win at least one Championship. Brown was also the man who did all he could to keep James with his hometown Cavaliers as long as he could by signed legendary center Shaquille O'Neal.

Brown is a surprising turn for the Lakers. Famed for being a defensive mastermind, he will face a tough crowd in Los Angeles where they are more accustomed to watching a flashy, offensively minded team.

His tactics in Cleveland came under criticism. His offensive strategy appeared to be 'give the ball to James' and not much else. With a player as skilled as Lebron, this worked 80% of the time, the problems came when James faced defensive specialists in Boston and Orlando. Brown also seemed to do nothing in timeouts, at times he would be standing ten yards away while his assistants gave the pep talk, made adjustments and issued the plays. For a man needing to follow arguably the best coach the NBA has ever witnessed, his style is not conducive to long-term success. His ego management skills were questionable in Cleveland where many argued that James was the real coach. How will he cope in the mega-fishbowl of Los Angeles, with Kobe Bryant, reality-tv star come NBA player Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum's temper and Pau Gasol's... Gasol-ness?

It would be far from shocking to watch the Laker offense turn into a Kobe-led isolation festival. If that happens, The Mike Brown era will not last long in Tinseltown.

Monday, 16 May 2011

East Finals Game 1: Bulls beat Heat 103-82

Experts? Really, are they still allowed to call them that?

A good 90% of the NBA 'experts' picked the Miami Heat to win this series. Memo, not if the Heat play like this again. They play like this again then this series is only going to have 3 more games.

The Heat are now 0-4 against Chicago this season. I don't see Chicago playing quite as well as Sunday night but they won't need to as this wasn't even close. Miami had just 28 shots in the second half to Chicago's 43. That's a huge plus unseen in the Playoffs. The Bulls were regarded as the better rebounding team though last night was out of this world. Chicago out-rebounded Miami 45-33, 19-6 on the offensive end that resulted in all those extra shots for the Bulls.

Make no mistake, this series is by no way over, but this game fully exposed and humiliated the Heat's weaknesses: Rebounding, size and offensive plays.

Miami came out of the blocks at the start with 2 dunks off Bulls turnovers. It looked like it could be a long night with 9 first-half turnovers for Chicago. Miami led 24-20 after 1 quarter, Bosh with 17 of that 24 on a stellar night for the .5 of the Miami two-and-a-half men. Into the 2nd the Bulls stepped up defensively holding Miami again to 24 points to the Bulls 28 as Gibson hit a run with 7 of 9 Bulls points including a flat-out "get outta my" dunk over Dwyane Wade that electrified an already frenzied crowd. The half ended tied at 48 as the Bulls struggled some to stop the Heat getting points easily.

Wade will be having nightmares
for a little while...
Into the 3rd quarter with the Bulls up 58-57 and this is when things got out of hand. Lebron James had only 2 points in the third quarter as he couldn't hit a thing all night long. The Bulls bench unit completely outplayed their Heat counterparts as Watson, Korver, Brewer and Asik all had standout performances. Watson came in and did a great job hustling after the loose ball, highlighted by a chase-down on a loose ball with 3 seconds left on the shot-clock, CJ turns around, step-back 3 from deep to beat the buzzer. Korver didn't get too hot on his shooting missing a couple wide open before making a three after the game was not a contest, Thibodeau gave him 16 minutes as he did a decent job on Wade in the first half. The Bulls used Korver as the pick with Rose to get Korver more wide open shots against the Heat's terrible defense on the roll. Ronnie Brewer came in and tipped plenty of passes and made one great steal that resulted in 2 Free Throws and a possession after that had Brewer run off the baseline for a dunk. The Heat need to remember that the baseline exists as Brewer was free to move along it all evening.

Omer Asik had a fantastic night. I've yet to see a big man defend the rim and alter so many shots without fouling the shooter. He rebounds at both ends and never has shots blocked as he goes up strong two-handed for the dunk. Taj Gibson as mentioned above was charged up for this game, and his performance was rounded off by a see-to-believe putback dunk over two Heat defenders with hardly any time left in the game.

Erik Spoelstra was out-coached by Thibodeau as Spoelstra inexplicably went small against a Bulls team which has big players who are just as quick as a small, shown when Noah and Gibson blocked Wade and James' jump-shots respectively as they put on a masterclass in staying in front of the attacker.

Game 2 will be crucial in this still-young series as if Chicago can fend off an inevitable James/Wade fight-back and take a 2-0 lead to Miami then they will fully be in control and putting the pressure on the Heat. If the Bulls go in 2-0 up the Heat need to win that third game, as teams 3-0 down have never won the 7-game series (0-99 in history). The Heat will have the pressure of an unforgiving home crowd that could prove more of a burden if things get nasty in Game 3.

The roller-coaster has only just started.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Bulls eliminate Atlanta to set up Miami battle

Sunday night, possibly one of the most anticipated series in recent times will tip off. The #1 seeded Chicago Bulls take on the #2 seeded Miami Heat for the right to play in the 2011 NBA Finals.

Oh boy.

7pm Eastern, 1am here in the United Kingdom, the two teams at polar opposites in play style will commence what promises to be a battle royal.

Chicago may have swept the season series 3-0, but this Miami team has evolved so much since that last win in March, playing at a very high level in this post-season. They ousted a solid Philadelphia team in 5 games, and then beat an old but still dangerous Boston Celtics in 5. Chicago has had the opposite in Playoff performances so far. They knocked out an Indiana side that really tested the Bulls (5 games) and then again with the Hawks giving them a few issues in a 6 game series. While Chicago has had it's share of bad games in rounds 1 and 2, their performances in Game 5 of the Indiana Pacers series, and Games 3 and 6 of the Atlanta Hawks series underlined their real identities.

The Heat have 3 (or 2.5?) superstars in LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, 2 of which are destined for the Hall of Fame. They rely on these 3 to score in tons to carry them through. LeBron is one of the league's top scorers and Wade can match him. Bosh has ups and downs from game-to-game but is still worthy of a double-team at times. Beyond these three superstars, they have Mike Bibby running "Point Guard", a name that means little as LeBron and Wade carry the ball more than Bibby does. They also have Center Udonis Haslem returning from a long lay-off, but trying to integrate someone into a Playoff-ready squad is very difficult.

Chicago rely on substance as opposed to the Heat's style. They get a massive contribution from their self-proclaimed 'Bench Mob' of CJ Watson, Kyle Korver, Taj Gibson and Omer Asik. The bench were pivotal in Game 5 of the Atlanta series, with Thibodeau riding Gibson and Asik over Noah and Boozer for the 4th Quarter. Watson is growing into a capable replacement Point Guard for when Rose rests. All he has to do, and is doing, is control the offense enough that the Bulls can maintain their lead while their leader is off the floor. Korver is a streaky shooter, though leaving him wide open is a recipe for disaster. Chicago need him to get hot during the Conference Finals. Gibson, a fantastic defender and an inside presence on offense, some fans have called for him to be starting over Boozer. They have gone quiet recently. Gibson and Asik together form an almost impenetrable wall around the basket. Asik was truly inspiring against Atlanta, putting on a masterclass in double-team defense.

Let's look at the battles of this series.

Derrick Rose vs Mike Bibby:
Mike Bibby will probably never want to hear Rose's name again after this series. Though every player who has to (try to) defend Rose must feel the same, he is impossible to stay in front of. Verdict: Rose (1-0)

Dwyane Wade vs Keith Bogans:
An important battle here. Bogans proved his defensive class against Atlanta's top scorer; Joe Johnson. Johnson hit 34pts in a Game 1 win, but Bogans held him to 34 points combined in Games 3, 4 and 5. Wade is probably one of the top defensive guards in the league, and his offense is probably just as good. If Chicago want to win this series, Bogans will have to score those few 3-pt shots he gets each game, to force the Heat to at least defend him. If he goes cold, his defender will instantly go and put another body between Rose and the basket. Verdict: Wade (1-1)

Carlos Boozer vs Chris Bosh:
The two CBs, Boozer and Bosh, are by far the two most criticized players this season. Bosh was lamented for invisible nights, leading to talk of him not really being part of the "Big 3" in Florida. Bosh shot 1-18 against the Bulls earlier this year, the worst performance seen in 38 years. Boozer had been hitting his form after missing the first 15 games of the season with injury, before he sprained his ankle twice. He has not hit the same heights since. Then, a turf toe injury at the end of the Pacers series further limited his effectiveness leading to him being booed off court in the first game (a loss) of the Hawks series. His 23pt-10reb explosion in Game 6 effectively eliminated the Hawks while providing Bulls fans with the hope that he has returned to much-needed form.
Verdict: Draw (1.5-1.5)

Joakim Noah vs Joel Anthony:
Joakim Noah will get the better of Anthony in this match-up. Noah is the Bulls engine unit in defense, running around double-teaming before recovering and collecting the rebounds. His ability to tap offensive rebounds back out to Rose is very important. Verdict: Noah (2.5-1.5)

Bulls bench vs Heat bench:
The Bulls' bench is one of the better scoring bench units around. That's not to mention the fact that as a group, the Bulls bench is the best defensive unit in the NBA. Omer Asik's length is enough to stop any player, Gibson  is a mix of Power Forward and Center, easily long enough to play at Center, he will likely be used to counter Bosh if Boozer starts to struggle. Korver as I said above, will be crucial as when he is connecting on his shots, he spreads the court more for Rose and Deng. The Heat bench is sparse. Worryingly so. Udonis Haslem returned against Boston but looked hopelessly lost in picking up a foul and a technical all series. If the Heat's starting 5 get into a hole like they tend to do, they could be in real trouble. Verdict: Bulls (3.5-1.5)

Luol Deng vs LeBron James:
LeBron is by far the better offensive player, perhaps deserving of an MVP award this year himself. But Deng's length has bothered James for years. When Deng is on the floor, James shoots 17% compared to 40% with Deng off the floor. James has the tools to beat the Bulls by himself. Deng had a case for making the NBA Defensive 2nd-team if not the first-team. His persistence and ability to keep himself between his man and the basket, as well as not giving away fouls in the process, is unparalleled. He has often been labelled the "X-Factor" and "glue" of this Bulls team and it is pretty true. He is the Bulls' second scoring option behind the MVP and when he gets his 20 point average, it takes a massive load off of Rose's young shoulders. Verdict: Lebron's offense beats Deng's defense; James. (3.5-2.5)

Tom Thibodeau vs Erik Spoelstra:
Two relatively inexperienced head-coaches. Thibodeau was the mastermind behind the Boston defense that won the 2008 NBA Title. He has came to Chicago in his first year as a head coach and turned them into the top defensive team in the NBA. Spoelstra always had an incredibly hard job to do in managing Wade and James' egos. He has achieved harmony it would seem as the Heat have appeared a team in recent weeks. His weakness is his team's reliance on Isolation 'plays' for Lebron and Wade that turn the rest of the team into spectators. If the Heat run too much of this stagnant offense, the Bulls' smothering defense will sink it's teeth.
Verdict: Thibodeau (4.5-2.5)

Result: Bulls 4.5 - 2.5 Heat.

Series Prediction: So impossibly hard to predict as this series will be decided by a vast number of battles and intangibles. Though as a Bulls fan, I have to pick my team, though it could easily go the way of Miami. Bulls win 4-3

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

For swept Lakers, where next?

With the Dallas Mavericks' 4-0 sweep of the LA Lakers, a dynasty came to a close. Phil Jackson, head coach and winner of a record 11 NBA Titles, stood down (apparently) permanently as coach.
Phil Jackson:
 More Championship Rings than fingers

So long Phil.

So now this blog asks, what do the Lakers do next? They have to find a new coach first who can decide on the next steps that will benefit this ball club going forward. Trouble is, the way this year's Playoffs ended for the Lakers makes going forward an incredibly complex task.

LA weren't just swept by Dallas, they were swept convincingly. Many analysts, experts and pundits, myself included, had the Lakers in as at least Conference finalists if not NBA finalists. Dallas exposed this Laker team as a team well beyond it's use by date. The explosion of three-point shooting was not all down to the Mavs' shooters having a good night, a good 75% of the 20 threes they scored we wide open. The Mavericks showed the rest of the watching millions how little the Lakers wanted this 2nd three-peat.

So the Lakers had no intensity, no desire to at least extend their season to a 5th Game back home. They didn't give themselves a chance. This Laker team could have won both Games 1 and 3, blowing leads in the 4th quarter of both. LA were in Game 4 in the first quarter again, but a run by the Mavs simply broke the will and heads went down. The Lakers had the look of a team that said "we're done, we know we're done, let's go home." Even Phil Jackson looked resigned to his fate after the Mavericks finished the half 63-42 ahead.

Midway through the 3rd Quarter, Ron Artest broke out for a steal and a fast-break, but got caught between finishing with a dunk or a layup. Maybe his legs were finished after a long season (starting all 82 games), or maybe he simply, like the rest of the Lakers, just couldn't get things right. That basket would have cut the Maverick's lead to 17 at a time when the Lakers had the momentum. That miss resulted in the Mavericks knocking in 2 free-throws and yet another 3 to make it a 23-pt lead that effectively ended this as a contest. The teams filtered their bench units back in as they filled out the box score.

LA obviously couldn't get their bench in quick enough. Lamar Odom and Dirk Nowitzki were having words during a Mavs free-throw attempt, and Odom let his frustration get control as he body checked Dirk well above the three-point arc. An ejection was the instant decision and Odom didn't even look at all bothered that his season was finished. The game threatened to turn into a farce as Andrew Bynum assaulted J.J Barea on a layup, delivering a hard elbow into the Mavs' Point Guard's ribcage. Barea luckily had a soft-ish landing, Bynum was ejected and left the court in similar fashion to Odom a minute beforehand. The Mavericks' bench deserve praise here as they did not come out of their area to get what would be almost justified revenge.

So with the season over for the now ex-champions, will they blow the team up and bring in a whole new squad of players? Who can they or will they trade? Looking at this Laker roster, there are very few players who can be traded for even an equal player, never mind an improvement.

Could the Lakers trade up to 4 of Kobe Bryant's (Center) team-mates?
  • Pau Gasol. Pau should not be traded. I know I know, he played terribly these Playoffs. But remember back in November he was in the MVP conversation? Yes, he really was. He lost form, but that will return. Whatever drama is going on privately, will sort itself out over the summer. Even if you wanted to trade Gasol who do you take as a Center/Forward right now? Dwight Howard comes up soon, but the Magic will be wanting major assets for his release and a Kobe-Howard tandem could be volatile to say the least.
  • Ron Artest. If LA put out a "for sale" sign on Artest, who is seriously going to step up and say that they want him as part of their team. In my eyes, he showed his true colours in the Pacers-Pistons brawl, and no team should want a player like him in the locker room.
  • Lamar Odom. Sixth Man of the Year, can the Lakers afford to lose not just a big scorer off the bench and defensive presence, but one of the 7-footers that helped make LA nigh on impossible to defend during the Championship years? Again, who can you get to replace him, and who would want to take on his large contract?
  • Andrew Bynum. This off-season could be make or break for Bynum and his career as a Laker. A valuable piece when fit, but possibly a huge trading chip given his relatively young age and undoubted ability. I do not condone his attack on Barea, and the league would do well to suspend him some of next season, but he is not in the same mold as Artest. Bynum has a big future. This summer is when the Lakers must decide if they will invest more in Bynum or blow it all up.

The big trade everyone is talking about is Dwight Howard taking off for California. How feasible is this trade and how likely would it be to work out successfully for LA in the long run? Firstly, the Lakers would have to give up a lot in any trade for Dwight. There are many many combinations that can be made to sound workable for either side.

The Howard Trade deserves it's own breakdown. Check back soon!