This one hurts. It hurts bad. Much more than the 15 point blowout in Staples Center. Tonight, the Los Angeles Lakers came to play, and they still got beat. They came out focused, and still got manhandled. Put simply, they were put down by a better team. It hasn't happened in a long time, probably not since the 2008 Finals, but it happened tonight, and there's no way to dress it up.
It's just one game (two if you count the Christmas Day game), a very small sample size. Orlando swept the Lakers in the regular season last year only to get beat down in the Finals. I'm not throwing in the towel on this season, or resigning myself to an inevitable Finals failure. It's no guarantee that either team will even make it that far, and probably less of a certainty for Cleveland than for L.A. But I'd be lying to you if I said I thought the Lakers could beat the Cavs in a seven game series right now, and that is a disturbing feeling that hasn't registered in my brain for quite a while.
I'm trying, but I can't think of a single silver lining from the purple and gold perspective. Kobe played like an MVP early, but so did LeBron, and when the game came to a head, it was LeBron who was unstoppable. For the 2nd straight game, the Cleveland front court manhandled the Lakers'. Bynum was abused once more by Shaq. Pau Gasol continued to be neutralized by Zydrunas Ilgauskas. In the pivotal 4th quarter, the Cavs sent their whole team at Bryant and nobody else could make them pay. Meanwhile, every time LeBron didn't pull up for a jumper (most of which he made), the Cavs ball movement and outside shooting was enough to punish the Lakers for needing a double team.
I can't discount this result as just another game, because, for the 2nd straight game, I saw Cleveland shut the Lakers offense down, and for the 2nd straight time, I couldn't think of a rational way the Lakers could adjust. If Cleveland isn't required to double on one of the Laker big men, our offense isn't going to work, and we've seen ample evidence that neither Pau nor Drew can efficiently score in one on one situations against that team. If the Cavs can aggressively double Kobe without the Lakers finding open shots, the team will struggle to score, and that's exactly what has happened in the pivotal moments of two different games.
Last year, Cleveland was one of the best teams in the league, even winning the most regular season games. Then, they ran into an Orlando Magic team that was just a bad match-up for them. They couldn't beat the Magic, because they didn't have the personnel to deal with Dwight Howard and the duo of tall, athletic forwards Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis. Why am I bringing this up? Because I can't fight the feeling that this describes the Cavs-Lakers this year. L.A. is a great team, definitely one of the league's best. They could very easily end up with a record superior to Cleveland. They might even still be considered the better overall team, compared to the league in general. But, as these two games have shown, Cleveland has proven to be a bad, bad match-up for L.A. If the two teams meet in the Finals, and my life were on the line, I'm ashamed to admit which way I'd bet.
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