You’ve probably heard it all about KOBE BRYANT; he’s old, he’s beat up, he’s starting to slow down, etc. Somehow, Bryant overcame everything, including a mid-season tantrum from ANDREW BYNUM and a near jettisoning of PAU GASOL, to finish tied with KEVIN DURANT for the league lead in scoring at 29 points per game.
His will to win is the main reason why the Lakers, despite not being the top seed, are considered one of the favorites. The mid-season pickup of RAMON SESSIONS to run the point also helps. Things could get dicey for the Lakers if METTA WORLD PEACE gets a lengthy suspension for elbowing Oklahoma City guard JAMES HARDIN in the face.
Winning the West won’t be easy for any team that plays Oklahoma City. Durant and RUSSELL WESTBROOK are the league’s best one-two punch outside of LeBRON JAMES and DWYANE WADE. Add those two together with super sixth man Harden and a power forward-center combo of KENDRICK PERKINS and SERGE IBAKA, and you have a squad that is capable of winning it all.
The Clippers could be the wild card of the playoffs. CHRIS PAUL is a primetime point guard and has the best finisher in the game in BLAKE GRIFFIN. Losing CHAUNCEY BILLUPS hurt early, but MO WILLIAMS and NICK YOUNG have been surprisingly solid backcourt fill-ins. Los Angeles’ second team will need DeANDRE JORDAN and CARON BUTLER to play a big role to advance, though.
Last year, the San Antonio Spurs made the mistake of peaking at the wrong time, took the top seed and got dropped in the first round. Will this year be any different? Not likely.
The Spurs are a year older. TONY PARKER may be having an MVP-type season, but TIM DUNCAN and MANU GINOBILI are 35 and 34, respectively, and aren’t getting any younger. Whichever team the Spurs play (Dallas or Denver) will be tough to get by.
Memphis is young, energetic and full of talent. But are they mature enough? RUDY GAY and MARC GASOL have given the Grizzlies a great one-two point in the paint. Losing ZACH RANDOLPH hurts. Randolph was the tough guy. And to get through the likes of Gasol, Bynum or Duncan, you need tough guys. That notwithstanding, Memphis could give whoever they play in the first round (Lakers or Clippers) a good run.
If you’re looking for a big coaching matchup, a possible first-round matchup between San Antonio’s GREG POPOVICH and Dallas’ RICK CARLISLE could be the best of the playoffs. Carlisle doesn’t get enough credit for leading the Mavericks to the championship last year. Meanwhile, Popovich might be the best coach/general manager of the last dozen years.
Lakers top man MIKE BROWN caught some heat earlier this season, but he has since righted the ship. Oklahoma City coach SCOTT BROOKS earned valuable experience last year and is no longer the new kid on the block, while Clippers coach VINNY DEL NEGRO will get his feet wet this weekend.