It seems everywhere you turn, numbers are used to explain basketball these days. Not that there's anything wrong with that. People love numbers. Real numbers. Made up numbers. Misintepreted numbers. They're all used to try to figure out this beautiful game of basketball that we love so much. A game sometimes so simple, yet so complex at the same time. But I don't want to start a debate over the pros or cons about the numbers game to explain basketball. That's a topic for another day. Instead, let's focus on a simple number. Sixteen. In this year's playoffs, the number 16 is the most important one of them all. The Lakers need 16 wins for championship #16, and of course, the Lakers will need huge help from #16, Pau Gasol. Let's count this down. Here are 16 facts and 16 questions to know about the Lakers' quest for #16 and the road to repeating.
- 16. Pau Gasol (obviously).
It's Kobe's world, but it will be Pau's dominance that the Lakers will need to count on to repeat. I fully expect Kobe's best throughout the playoffs, yet Phil Jackson's version of the Triangle in Lakerland has been most successful when there was a dominant post player to play alongside Kobe. It was dismantled when those post players were effectively limited from letting the Lakers run the offense inside/out.
Shaq in the '04 Finals(I stand corrected stat wise. H/T to desecrator09. Shaq's stats were great. But Detroit handled our offensive flow so well, it still left me with a feeling that nothing worked.) and Pau in '08. For a good chunk of this season, Pau didn't look right. He was hesitant, outworked and frustrated by far lesser players. The question of his softness returned. Luckily, Pau hit his stride at the right time. In the past month, he's averaged 22.5 ppg & 12 rebs on 59.5% FG. He's looking and feeling confident again. His timing could not be any better. Back is the Pau who can't be left open for a 15-18 ft. shot, whoo can use either hand after using a plethora of post moves, who can and will make the proper pass at the correct time. The Lakers head into the playoffs with many questions, but Pau isn't one of them. Should he be the focal point of the offense once the playoffs start?
- 15. The number of NBA championships the Lakers currently have. In years:
1949, 1950, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1972, 1980, 1982, 1985, 1987, 1988, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2009. Will this year result in a 16th?
- 14. The numer of seasons Kobe and Fish have each played.
They are the veteran leadership that is talked about. The Lakers' confidence (or overconfidence) starts with them, and when it comes to needed big plays, it often comes from one of them providing it. They are both 4 time champions who know what it takes to get it done. So, when you hear that the Lakers aren't too worried about how the regular season finished out, it's usually an attitude that stems from their veteran calm. It seems like that attitude may have had a negative effect on the rest of the team not good enough to handle that kind of ego (I can't say Fish is good enough, but he knows the difference). Are they right this year? Will the Lakers be all right once the playoffs start?
- 13. The past number of games Andrew Bynum has missed.
For the second year in a row, Andrew Bynum comes back to play as the playoffs start. Last year was fine, since he was more or less icing on cake. The Lakers were primed to win, having played well without him over the past two seasons. This year's team hasn't enjoyed the same success as the '08 and '09 squads. They aren't as good on offense, and seemed willing to rebrand themselves as a defensive team. A big part of that was the presence of Andrew Bynum in the middle. The Lakers might never look as good offensively when Bynum is starting over Lamar Odom, yet earlier in the season it didn't matter. The Lakers were the #1 ranked defensive team in the NBA. Now that Bynum will have to work his way back in the playoffs, we won't know what to expect. His presence will be key in most series, but absolutely crucial should we face Dallas, Cleveland or Orlando. Returning from injury again, what can he realistically be expected to give this Lakers team?
- 12. The number of Laker wins in March and April.
They were 12-9 in March and April, as opposed to 17-6 last season. What's worse is they went 3-8 against playoffs team in that stretch this year. Nine of the wins came against bad teams. Last season? 8-4. They fattened up on good and bad teams alike. At a time Phil Jackson teams are known to start peaking, this year's team has shown an inability to turn it on. Are injuries or boredom valid excuses? Or is this team what their record says they are?
- 11. Number of rings Phil Jackson is aiming for.
When Phil Jackson wins titles, he wins them in 3's. Great news for us Lakers fans, but he's not under contract for next season yet. If the Lakers win it all ths year, will Phil be back with the Lakers for a run at #12?
- 10. The most number of Lakers I would like to see play in the postseason.
With no disrespect to Josh Powell, DJ Mbenga and Adam Morrison, I really hope that they are used very sparingly. Although Josh and DJ have played admirably during their opportunites, and they remain comsumate professionals, any chance of playing time for them comes when there are multiple players with foul trouble or injuries. Playoffs rotation usually shrink, but Phil is known to try many line-ups. Will injuries give them more minutes then we would like to see them play?
- 9. The amount of games Kobe missed this year.
Normally, Kobe's absence late in the season would be cause for great concern. This year's absences were due to much needed time off for Kobe. It allowed him some rest before the playoffs start, and gave the bench guards some minutes to gain confidence and hopefully fnd their shooting stroke. Will Kobe's rest be the push that keeps him fresh for 2 months and the bench productive?
- 8. The number of playoff losses I predict for the Lakers this postseason.
4-1, 4-2, 4-2, 4-3. Will I be right?
- 7. Lamar Odom
Lamar will have to keep up his recent production and aggressiveness since Bynum's status is still (and again) up in the air. The margin of error is smaller this season. The Lakes cannot afford for him to be a non-factor until halfway through the 2nd round, like he was last season. Will his recent play continue into the playoffs? Also, will his return to the bench strengthen it?
- 6. The Points Per Game scoring average of Thabo Sefolosha.
His non-threatening status on offense wll allow Kobe or Fish to help more on Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook. Will it be Kobe or Fish assigned to him, and can he make them pay if the help off of him?
- 5. The number of games I predict the Lakers to win this series in.
The Lakers lost to the Thunder March 26th, and Oklahoma showed them some things to be scared of. The Lakers won the 3 previous games, and two were close, but Bynum's return, a strengthened bench, and raised Lakers effort should be too much for the untested Thunder to overcome. They might be five close games though. Is playoff experience a cliche?
- 4. The Lakers' defensive rating this year.
The defense slipped a bit recently, but they were #1 for a good part of the 1st half. This team can play some serious D. With Bynum's return (if healthy), Ron's addition, and raised playoff intensity, they might be able to return to form and transition back into the defense-first unit they set out to be this year. Will the defense return to top notch form in the playoffs?
- 3. The overall seed the Lakers are in the playoffs.
With the loss to Portland last Sunday, they lost home court advantage to the Orlando Magic, as well as already having lost it to the Cleveland Cavaliers. This season hasn't been so great on the road. Providing they make it to the Finals, and the opponent being Cleveland or Orlando, will losing homecourt cost them the championship?
- 2. The number of backup guards the Lakers will start the playoffs with.
Finally, out of Phil's doghouse, Sasha had been playing well. Considering the struggles of the bench, any help is sorely needed. Especially since his size could have been used to defend Russell Westbrook. How much wll Sasha's absence hurt a struggling bench?
- 1. Kevin Durant's ranking atop the scoring race.
Ron Artest played terrific defense this year, and this is why he was brought in. To guard the elite small forwards,and it's time to earn his money. In the regular season, he held Durant to 5 points below his season average, from 30.1 to 25.8 on 34% FGA. Artest can make life hell for Kevin. Will Ron Ron continue to make life hell for Durant in the first round?