The Lakers might choke!

Yeah, right. They're not the Kings, you know. As long as Shaquille O'Neal's playing, the Nets are in a world of hurt in the NBA Finals.

Topics: Basketball,

Boy, did the Sacramento Kings pull a choke-a-roo for the ages against the Los Angeles Lakers or what? Sixteen of 30 from the line in Game 7? Are you kidding me? Never mind the bricks tossed up by Peja Stojakovic and Doug Christie in the waning moments, or Chris Webber failing to take charge offensively down the stretch. If the Kings had just upgraded their foul shooting from execrable to lousy, they’d have won in regulation.

Two more lingering thoughts from that Western Conference final series, which deserves a little extra attention because it was after all the real NBA Finals.

First, what’s up with Mateen Cleaves? He gave an impassioned pep talk in the huddle before the fourth quarter of Game 7. “This is it right here!” he yelled to his Kings mates. “We came too far. We came too far, fellas, we’ve gotta lay it all on the line!”

Here’s a second-year man who played 153 out of a possible 3,951 minutes during the season and has not removed his warm-ups in the playoffs — he could have bright green happy faces painted on his knees and we wouldn’t know it! — and he gives the big speech in the huddle at crunch time. I can’t figure out if he’s got the stones of a giant or he’s just a wacko but I think I love the guy. Were his teammates inspired, or were they thinking, “Who’s this ‘we’ you’re talking about, scrub?” I would think the former, though they didn’t play like it.

Second, it looked like a good trade last off-season when the Kings sent sometimes spectacular but erratic point guard Jason Williams to the Grizzlies for the much steadier Mike Bibby, but who knew just how good a trade it was? The Kings are a team whose big star, Webber, is just never going to be one of those gimme-the-ball leaders with the game on the line. Bibby — who knew? — gives them that. He also gives them a reliable way to run the offense, which is at its most effective when it’s going to, not through Webber. When he’s reacting to a play that’s in motion, scripted or not, Webber is nearly unstoppable. When he sets up with the ball in the high post and looks to start the play, the Kings’ offense stalls.

But enough about the Kings, who were only the best team in the NBA this year, which is a very different thing from winning the championship, which is much better. The Lakers are going to win the championship by beating the New Jersey Nets in the Finals.

You Might Also Like

Anything can happen, of course. The Lakers could choke too. They’re not going to, but they could. That’s why they line ‘em up and play ‘em, the saying goes. Actually, that’s not why they line ‘em up and play ‘em, but never mind. One thing about the Lakers: They know how to win. They might lose, but they don’t choke. But sports lore is filled with upsets, so yes, the Nets juuuuuuust might beat the Lakers. Yes indeed. With me as their leading scorer. And Winona Ryder and Julia Roberts providing steals and rebounds off the bench.

You can analyze matchups until you’re blue in the face and it wouldn’t matter. It all comes down to Shaquille O’Neal. The Nets don’t have anybody who can score on him or anybody who can guard him, and unlike the Kings, they don’t have enough talent to overcome him.

So what if Kenyon Martin is a better power forward than Robert Horry, or the Nets’ bench is a shade better than the Lakers’ bench, which maybe it is and maybe it isn’t? If you put all of the guys from both rosters on a playground, with you and me as team captains, whoever got first pick would win, because the first pick is O’Neal. You want Jason Kidd? Sure, I’ll take Kobe Bryant. You want Bryant? Fine, I’ll take Kidd. Tell you what: You can have Horry and Martin. I’ll even take Stanislav Medvedenko. As long as I have Shaq, my team wins.

Nets fans are taking great comfort in the fact that their club split its two games with the Lakers this year, with each team winning its home game. What they don’t mention is that at the Meadowlands in April, O’Neal didn’t play because of an injury and the Nets still had to rally furiously to win. When the Lakers beat the Nets a month earlier in Los Angeles, Bryant was serving a suspension for fighting. O’Neal scored 40 points.

So the prediction here is Lakers in … six. You heard me. Six.

The Lakers aren’t quite the team they’ve been the last two years, when they won back-to-back titles. The guys who used to be a pretty good bench are now only a decent starting lineup, beyond the two megastars, and the new bench — Lindsey Hunter, Devean George and Samaki Walker, mostly — isn’t much to get excited about. The Lakers are still a good defensive team, but it’s not the stifling defense of the last two years.

Still, they’re good enough to blow away the Nets. But I figure Kidd’s brilliance will get New Jersey one win over the course of any series, and the Lakers sometimes have a little attention-deficit problem when they’re not being challenged — witness the Finals against Indiana two years ago. That’ll account for another Nets win, though it’ll probably be in Game 5, with the Lakers already up 3-1.

Besides, it would be boring to predict a sweep, and I’ve already said the Stanley Cup Finals would go five games. And since my predictions are always wrong anyway, why not six?

Kidd will get a chance to showcase his game on a national stage, the way Bibby did in the semifinals, the way Allen Iverson did in the 76ers’ loss in last year’s Finals. And Kidd vs. Bryant should be a show worth watching.

But no matter how good Kidd is — and, oh, he’s way good — it won’t be good enough, unless O’Neal gets hurt so badly that he can’t play, which would have to be pretty badly. If that happens, we’ll talk again.

In the meantime, a word about the heckling Kidd and his wife and son took in the last round at the hands of Boston fans, who taunted him as a wife beater. By all accounts, Kidd has been a stand-up guy since Joumana Kidd’s domestic violence complaint of last year. He paid a fine, underwent anger counseling (the charges were dropped as a result) and has been as forthright with the public about it as anybody could expect. And yeah, drunken fans shouldn’t be heckling a player’s wife and, especially, 3-year-old kid. Kidd’s anger at the Boston yahoos was justified.

On the other hand, yahoos will be yahoos, and Kidd’s no innocent victim. Let’s not forget he has only himself to blame. An effective way to keep from being heckled as a wife beater is not to beat your wife up in the first place.

King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Martyna Blaszczyk/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 1

    Pond de l'Archeveche - hundreds thousands of padlocks locked to a bridge by random couples, as a symbol of their eternal love. After another iconic Pont des Arts bridge was cleared of the padlocks in 2010 (as a safety measure), people started to place their love symbols on this one. Today both of the bridges are full of love locks again.

    Anders Andersson/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 2

    A bird's view of tulip fields near Voorhout in the Netherlands, photographed with a drone in April 2015.

    Aashit Desai/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 3

    Angalamman Festival is celebrated every year in a small town called Kaveripattinam in Tamil Nadu. Devotees, numbering in tens of thousands, converge in this town the day after Maha Shivratri to worship the deity Angalamman, meaning 'The Guardian God'. During the festival some of the worshippers paint their faces that personifies Goddess Kali. Other indulge in the ritual of piercing iron rods throughout their cheeks.

    Allan Gichigi/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 4

    Kit Mikai is a natural rock formation about 40m high found in Western Kenya. She goes up the rocks regularly to meditate. Kit Mikai, Kenya

    Chris Ludlow/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 5

    On a weekend trip to buffalo from Toronto we made a pit stop at Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. I took this shot with my nexus 5 smartphone. I was randomly shooting the falls themselves from different viewpoints when I happened to get a pretty lucky and interesting shot of this lone seagull on patrol over the falls. I didn't even realize I had captured it in the shot until I went back through the photos a few days later

    Jassen T./National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 6

    Incredibly beautiful and extremely remote. Koehn Lake, Mojave Desert, California. Aerial Image.

    Howard Singleton/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 7

    Lucky timing! The oxpecker was originally sitting on hippo's head. I could see the hippo was going into a huge yawn (threat display?) and the oxpecker had to vacate it's perch. When I snapped the pic, the oxpecker appeared on the verge of being inhaled and was perfectly positioned between the massive gaping jaws of the hippo. The oxpecker also appears to be screeching in terror and back-pedaling to avoid being a snack!

    Abrar Mohsin/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 8

    The Yetis of Nepal - The Aghoris as they are called are marked by colorful body paint and clothes

    Madeline Crowley/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 9

    Taken from a zodiac raft on a painfully cold, rainy day

    Ian Bird/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 10

    This wave is situated right near the CBD of Sydney. Some describe it as the most dangerous wave in Australia, due to it breaking on barnacle covered rocks only a few feet deep and only ten metres from the cliff face. If you fall off you could find yourself in a life and death situation. This photo was taken 300 feet directly above the wave from a helicopter, just as the surfer is pulling into the lip of the barrel.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>