You Know I'm Not Dead (and Other NBA-Related Thoughts)

Still think there's something wrong with my boy, ESPN?

[Editor's Note:  For those of you who are new to Silver Screen and Roll, Josh Tucker was the founder and original manager of the site.  Besides being a great writer and an awesome dude to have on your side in an argument, I can personally vouch that this is one good dude.  Without him, I probably wouldn't even know what a blog is, and I'd still be relying ESPN and CNNSI for all my Lakers coverage.  He has, and will always have, carte blanche to talk about whatever is on his mind.] 

It's been a while, hasn't it?

I know what you're thinking: "Holy s---, a Josh Tucker sighting!" I know this, because that's essentially what was said when I showed up in the comments of this ridiculous post yesterday. Not that it's any surprise, of course — after C.A. and Dex took over here, I pretty much fell off the face of the earth.

Well, things are getting interesting, so while I can't promise you'll be hearing from me every day, I thought I'd drop by with a collection of thoughts on a variety of mostly unrelated subjects, except of course that they all center around NBA basketball and our Lakers.

Oh, and bonus points to the first person to recognize the title reference.

Thoughts on a Long NBA Season

For the last several years, I've watched virtually every game the Lakers played. If I didn't see it, it was because of either an extreme scheduling conflict, or it was literally impossible to find even a low quality, "less-than-perfectly-legal" feed online. This year, after C.A. and Dex took over, that changed. I watched fewer games. I went entire stretches without seeing a single game. And at a certain point late in the season, I tuned out for quite a while. Until the Playoffs started, of course, and then I didn't miss a minute.

But it got me to thinking. Yes, part of the reason I've been pretty absent is that I've been rather busy. I'm trying to finish school, get additional training, and start a new career within the next couple of months, and in the midst of all that, we will also be moving. There's just so much to do, and the deadline soon approaching, and those things had to take priority.

But it's more than that. I also lost interest, to a certain degree, and I'm not afraid to admit it. The fact is, it's a long, long season, and it just didn't seem to matter that much. Actually, it makes me think of something I might call the Bryant-James Hypothesis (only because I'm not good at coming up with decent names). When Kobe was younger, he was still at a point where he could do things in the regular season to amaze the world; at the same time, from 2003 to 2007, he wasn't contending for championships, so Kobe blowing everyone away during the regular season was all we had. But now, Kobe has done all that; he's done just about everything that can be done during the regular season. And now that the Lakers are once again contending for championships, it just doesn't feel important. Now, LeBron is the one accumulating regular season accolades, and that's fine with me. It's the difference between LeBron and Kobe, right now.

Frankly, with the Lakers having just won a championship, I have to admit that during the regular season, I often found myself having a hard time stifling a yawn. They had something to prove last year, to themselves as much as to anyone else, but not this year; this year, they only have something to win. And that gets me to thinking about the Lakers themselves, and I have more sympathy for their inability to motivate themselves for 82 mostly useless games. Playing at the top of your game, at the height of your potential, takes a hell of a lot of energy, both physically and mentally, and the Lakers don't have anything to prove this season, only something to win. And you play differently when you're simply trying to win something than you do when you're trying to prove something. You save your energy, you bide your time, and you really only worry about when it matters.

That's Why I Was Never Worried

A lot of analysts were less than optimistic about the Lakers repeating, after they ended the season so poorly and struggled slightly against OKC. But I was never worried. I told my wife several times — probably more times than she cared to hear it — that this is really not any different from last year. Last year, we were less than impressive in the first round, outright struggled in the second, and didn't really start playing our best basketball until halfway through the conference finals. Why should I be worried about doing the same thing this year? It got us a ring last time.

A few weeks later, it appears they're actually ahead of last year's curve, playing high level basketball much earlier than they did in 2009. If they continue to improve — and they did all throughout last year's playoffs, just as they have thus far in these playoffs — I don't see why we shouldn't expect them to be fully ready for another Finals.

Impressed, Appreciative and Fearful Towards OKC

Speaking of the Lakers playing at a higher level, earlier in the playoffs, I just can't say enough about the Thunder. Is there any better compliment to a young, rebuilding team, than to point to the fact that, as an eight-seed, they forced the Lakers to start playing with effort, energy, and focus in the first round?! That never happens! But that's how surprisingly tough a matchup the Thunder were, that they brought out the best in the Lakers long before we ever expected to see it.

For that, OKC has my deepest gratitude. They kicked the Lakers into gear, and because of that, we're looking like we should handle the Suns and be fully ready for the Finals. And I want my team ready. I've always been a big believer in the benefit of a hard fought path to the Finals; in 2008, our boys waltzed through the West unchallenged, and when they got to Boston, they just weren't ready. In 2009, the Cavs blew through the East, and when they met a serious challenge, they weren't ready; meanwhile, Utah played us closer than they should have, Houston took us to 7 without any star players, and Denver was no walk in the park. So while some think that an easy conference bracket gives a team the advantage in the Finals, because they're not as worn down and probably didn't need as many games to get there (affording them more rest), I take the opposite view. A team should be stiffly challenged prior to the Finals, so they are ready for their opponent.

At the same time, I fear we may have just seen our championship window shrink slightly. The Thunder went into our first round series with less than 80 games of cumulative playoff experience between them; we had nearly 800. They're super young, with four of their seven best players being 21 or younger. Problem is, they didn't play like a young team. They played like veterans — resilient, tough-minded, undaunted and never discouraged.

And to top it off, four of five starters played all 82 games this year. As a team, perhaps the biggest thing that separates them from Portland, another team that everyone said was going to be awesome one of these days, is that the Thunder appear to be the exact opposite of injury prone. They're prone to good health. Put that together with their youth and impressive maturity in that series, and I think that in a couple years they're going to be destroying everybody.

But my favorite thing about them was their attitude. I've never seen a team threaten to oust the Lakers, especially the defending champion Lakers, and remain as humble as they were. Other teams preen; it is the Lakers, after all. To the very last guy, these guys were professional, courteous, respectful, humble, and mature. If they had beaten us, I would have rooted for them all the way to the Finals. I'm not someone who gives respect to other teams very easily, but the Thunder earned it, and then some.

Thoughts on LeBron

You all know I could write 10 pages on this, but I won't. I've posted some thoughts on my Google Buzz, and they probably won't be the last. But for now, I'll say this: That was on LeBron. No, he was not the only one to come up short, but in as much as his teammates lost faith and lost direction, they did so because they were looking to him for leadership, and he failed them. It's one thing to play poorly, and while I may criticize a player for doing so, I'll never fault a player for being beaten. But this was different. LeBron didn't just play poorly, and he didn't just get beaten. He failed to lead his team to a championship — or, indeed, to lead them at all. And that's on him. Someone needs to tell LeBron that you're supposed to be apathetic during the regular season, and driven and focused during the playoffs — not the other way around.

I think he will leave Cleveland this summer. I think his image will take a huge hit, going out the way he did, never winning a championship, and then bailing on them this summer. On the other hand, while his image will take a hit, it's not something he can't recover from; Kobe has recovered from far worse. But to do so, he'll need to play out-of-his-mind basketball and win a championship — and he'll also need to tone down his entitlement attitude, the one that has him swaggering like he owns the league and calling himself the King, despite never having won anything. He'll need to show some humility, which I think will be hard for him. Still, if he's smart, he can recover pretty easily from the image hit he'd take in leaving Cleveland. And if he's really smart, he'll forget about playing in a large media market and find himself a good team that gives him a shot at a championship sometime soon.

Thoughts on Boston

I have to say this: With ESPN.com being the king of premature, knee-jerk reactions (see here), I couldn't believe my eyes when 24 hours after Boston took Game 2, and the Lakers having blown the Suns out in Game 1, they still hadn't said anything about an impending Lakers-Celtics Finals rematch. Now the Lakers have also won Game 2, and unless I missed it, they still haven't said anything to that effect. Now, don't get me wrong, I do still think it's premature, and it's actually smart not to start looking that far ahead yet — but usually, that's all the more reason for ESPN.com to do so.

That said, while I'm far from making any guarantees yet in either series, I do think it likely that the Finals will be Lakers-Celtics. Consider this: Both teams have only to win two out of the next five games, but both teams just won two out of the last two games. Do you expect either team to really struggle to win two of the next five? I doubt it.

Actually, I'm still in wait-and-see mode, a little bit, with our series. No, I don't think Phoenix can beat us. But on the other hand, if all you've done is hold serve, you've done nothing. The Thunder showed us that. Boston, on the other hand, has home court advantage plus one — that is, they could lose a game at home and still have home court advantage. Ironically, ESPN analysts still see hope for the Magic, and I'm the one saying, "Sorry, they're done."

All of which leads me to a couple questions/thoughts. After the Celtics won Game 1 in Orlando, I asked the following question (again, via Buzz):

Assuming the Lakers make it, who do I want them to meet in the Finals?

Who do I want to beat is an easy question. From that perspective, I'd love a chance at revenge on the Celtics. But what about the matchups? Who is a better matchup for the Lakers?

I'll tell you honestly, I don't know right now. I do know this: Boston's defense is looking scary right now, and on offense, Big 3 + Rondo ain't lookin' too shabby. That said, they also have a tendency to cough up leads late in games, and if they do that to the Lakers, we won't miss the opportunity. Who is the better matchup? I still can't decide.

What I do know is that if we meet the Celtics in the Finals, we better beat them. I simply cannot handle losing to the Celtics twice in three years. Losing to LeBron and Shaq would have been worse; I honestly think if we had met them there and lost, I might not have survived it. But losing to the Celtics again might be the death of me. So we had better win.

And we had better beat the Suns quickly. We can't let Boston beat Orlando any quicker than we beat Phoenix. We can't have them resting up while we're still playing. Rest is key for both teams, as age and injuries affect both us and the Celtics. All the more reason to be focused and beat the Suns as quickly as we can. Victory matters most, but if it's the Celtics we'll be facing, it is not all that matters. Personally, I think the Suns take 1 in Phoenix, but I don't see them beating us twice in a row. Coming back to L.A. for Game 5, I think this Lakers team has things pretty well dialed in, and I think they have what it takes to "always be closing." My prediction from where we stand now: Lakers in 5, which would be great.

Thoughts on Home Court Advantage

I was busy wringing my hands over who is the better Finals matchup the other night, when a thought that hadn't yet occurred to me hit me like a brick: If the Celtics beat Orlando (and assuming we beat Phoenix), we will have home court advantage in the Finals. Before the playoffs started, it seemed so unlikely that the Celtics would beat both Cleveland and Orlando that it never even occurred to me that we might get home court advantage. It seemed like such a foregone conclusion that if we got there, we'd start out on the road, that I made that my expectation and never thought about it again — until out of nowhere a light bulb went on, and I got a warm, fuzzy feeling inside.

I did not enjoy starting the series in Boston a couple years ago. Starting the Finals in Los Angeles, now that makes me feel good. And you know that if the Celtics are in Staples Center for the Finals, our usually casual fans might start sounding a lot like Utah or OKC. Well, bring it on then — we owe 'em.

Thoughts on That Phoenix Game 7

If you haven't read Dave McMenamin's piece, you need to. And you need to bookmark it, and print it out, and save it. And any time that a Kobe-hater brings it up, you need to pull that out. I've got a few more thoughts on it that I'll probably end up putting in a FanPost soon — there are some points to make that McMenamin, and even Kobe himself in answering questions and defending himself, didn't make, some of which I articulated in the comments of Andrew Sharp's ridiculous article. I think I'll find it worth the time to create a single post that compiles all of the different reasons why claiming that Kobe deliberately tanked that game, or was pouting, makes zero sense... so look for that.

Big Ups to C.A., Dex, and the New Guys

I wouldn't have left SS&R if I didn't know the blog was in awesome hands. C.A. and Dex have done an awesome job here, as I knew they would, and while I haven't yet gotten the chance to really get to know the writing of the new authors as well as I should, from what I've seen, you guys have a solid crew here. It looks like SS&R is having a great playoffs; the threads are busy, and SS&R is on track to handily beat my highest traffic month. All of which makes me happy, because I still have a soft spot for this kick-ass Lakers community. None other compares.

See You Around

I gotta tell you, I miss posting here. My wife recently told me she wished I hadn't given this up (do I have the best wife, or what?) — hey, I wouldn't have if I didn't have to. Life happens, though.

I can't promise I'll be around very often, but I will try to pop in every now and then. In the meantime, you can find me on Google Buzz. (No, you can't find me on Facebook, for reasons I explain here.) I've found that I like using Buzz to post smaller thoughts — one to three paragraphs that I can type up in three minutes, which enables me to at least stay slightly involved in the discussion, even while I don't have the time to be a serious blogger.

Come find me; I just might follow you back.

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