Lakers Formula? “Slow it Down Man!!

After watching the Los Angeles Lakers narrowly escape with a 99-96 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 3 of the Western Semis, my first thought was that the Lakers were fortunate. They could easily be down 3-0 and considering recent history, when it comes to being on the bottom end of elimination games, they pretty much pack it in. When you factor in that Game 4 is the latter of an unusual back to back affair and it’s quite easy to conceive of the Lakers getting blown out at Staples.That’s why it was imperative to come away with a victory on Friday for reasons beyond the obvious…going down 3-0.

With a Game 3 victory, the Lakers now know that they should be up 2-1 with the next game being at home and an opportunity to go back to OKC with a commanding 3-1 lead. Most teams don’t recover from that type of deficit.This aint hockey!!

The beauty of playoff basketball is the obvious adjustments that are made by teams during any particular series. This series has the feeling of the Tortoise and the Hare. OKC wants so bad to run the Lakers out the gym and Kobe and Crew want to keep it at a slow methodical pace, forcing the Thunder to run half court sets, which is an obvious weakness of theirs. LA is also making a point to utilize the one advantage they have over any other foe in the league, which is their size and having two talented 7 footers, both with all-star caliber game. If Game 2 was any indication of how effective the Lakers could be running that style, then Friday’s victory was a total affirmation. Pound the ball inside, slow up the tempo, get back on defense and keep the Thunder in a half court set and you will win!!!!  I think the Lakers know that’s the formula to move on to the Conference Finals.

I expect the Lakers to tie the series and touch down in OKC with extreme confidence, knowing that if they stick with the game-plan, they can take the series lead heading back to Staples with a chance to close it out. The problem is that the even with 41 of 42 free-throw performance, the Lakers barely escaped, meaning that no matter what LA throws out there, the Thunder still have what it takes to win. Scary!!—Mike A. Layne

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May 20, 2012 · 12:16 PM

When the Mania Ends and Reality Begins: Analyzing Tim Tebow

It’s been a little over two months since Tim Tebow took over the reigns as signal caller for The Denver Broncos. Needless to say that from the moment he took that first snap, Tebow-Mania took over the sports world. There’s daily debate on ESPN’s First Take over his play, kids are getting suspended from schools for mimicking a gesture referred to as “Tebowing,” even SNL jumped on the bandwagon with their hilarious take on Jesus visiting Tebow and his teammates in the locker room after a victory. (If you haven’t had a chance to check it out, Youtube it). I have to admit that like many people, I also got caught up in the hype. Tebow is an inspiring personality and at times he can make you forget that as a starting quarterback in the NFL, there are certain deficiencies that he possesses, most notably, the ability to pass the ball with accuracy on a consistent basis.

There is no doubting that Tebow is a gamer, but being a gamer and a physical specimen doesn’t necessarily mean that he has the skill set to be a starting quarterback. Based on his performance on the field, one could understand why the Broncos are still apprehensive about making a full-time commitment. Granted, since he took over the reigns, the Broncos have had a winning record and have been recently been crowned AFC West Champs, but a debate could be made that the 7-4 record could be attributed more to their top rated running game and the emergence of the defense. In fact, one could argue that the Broncos are winning despite of Tebow and based on the numbers, that argument would be valid.

On the other hand, Tebow is an anomaly. The league has had its share of mobile quarterbacks but at first sight, the one thing that separates him from his predecessors would be his pure size and strength. Combine that with a will that just doesn’t quit and its pretty scary imagining what Tebow can do if he ever learns to pass with any resemblance of accuracy. Actually, if you really think about it, Cam Newton is an even more imposing figure then Tebow, faster with a laser for a right arm and has already shown the ability to make all the throws in the QB repertoire with ease. Imagine if you had a player with Newton’s talent with Tebow’s determination. Not that Newton isn’t a determined player, but you have to admit that Tebow’s “It” factor is in another stratosphere. In my mind, the “It” factor isn’t something that you can see on the field of play. It’s not a statistic. It’s an intangible that not every player possesses. It’s that No Holds Barred, Never Gonna Quit type of bravado that manifest from true leaders. You know what? Tebow has that and its  proven to be quite contagious within the Bronco community. You can see how his presence has inspired the Broncos and transformed them from also-ran to over-achievers.

What makes Tebow so effective? The unfamiliarity of the read option offense in the NFL, for one. There’s one thing to be said about the read option…it allows for a plethora of play-action and if executed properly, play-action can be a royal pain in a defenses hind parts. It totally keeps you on your heels and constantly guessing. That couldn’t have been more evident than it was in last weekends Wild Card victory against Pittsburgh. The Steelers went in as the top ranked defense in the league and they had absolutely no idea of how to stop this dude. He only completed 10 passes but each completion went for about 30 yards a pop! Maybe John Elway’s comments resonated in Tebow’s brain because he sure as hell came out and “Pulled the trigger” and it only took one bullet in overtime to end the season for Pittsburgh. I wont suggest that he will have the same success against New England on Saturday, but The Patriots have arguably the worst secondary in football and stranger things have happened.

For the record, I have chosen to reserve judgment on Tim Tebow. As a football observer, I can admit that I still have an old school mentality when it comes to the quarterback position. I love seeing guys drop back in the pocket, going through their progressions and hitting their targets, whether they be open or not. Afterall, the game has changed. The rules have changed and we are seeing quarterbacks putting up numbers like never before in the history of the league. However, the quarterback position has also changed and we are seeing more athletes at the helm. Teams are looking for players that can dominate games with both their feet as well as their arms. Steve Young did it. Donovan McNabb did it. Cam Newton is doing on an entirely different level. Tim Tebow has started 15 games in the NFL and although he has shown that he can be quite erratic and highly inconsistant, he has also shown that he does have the skills to perform at a high level and the innate ability to inspire his teammates in a way that can’t be quite quantified. Let’s give it some time before we rush to judgement and label him a bust. —–Mike. A. Layne

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Analyzing the Potential Changing of the Guard in La La Land

With the start of the NBA season right around the corner, it’s become obvious that the Los Angeles Lakers won’t be making any blockbuster deals anytime soon and with the loss of Lamar Odom, there seems to be more questions surrounding them now than in any time in recent memory. You have to admit, as soon as the lockout was over, the Lakers came out like gangbusters with the now infamous three-way trade which would’ve included the departure of Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom and the arrival of Chris Paul, arguably the best point guard in the league. (Personally, I’ll take D-Will any day) With that one move, they would be able to erase that one defensive deficiency that was exposed during last year’s early playoff exit. Granted, basketball is a big man’s game and the mere fact LA was willing to part with two of the most versatile big men in the game for CP3 proves that they were willing to do anything to fill that glaring void. (No disrespect to Derek Fisher. You’ve been the consummate Laker and I admire how you handled yourself during the negotiations, but you’re getting old, Dude!)  What happened next was totally unprecedented and could have changed the dynamics of basketball in The City of Angels for a long, long time.

There seems to be a growing trend in the NBA. Superstars are ganging up with other superstars and creating these mega-teams, geared to battle for basketball supremacy. The problem is that there are only a handful of superstars in the league and if you have the means and opportunity to grab one, conventional wisdom dictates that you pull the trigger immediately. The Lakers know this. How else would you explain departing with both an all-star and the reigning sixth-man of the year? Matching CP3 with Kobe Bryant and a healthy Andrew Bynum still left them as one of the most dangerous teams in the league as well as left them with a formidable nucleus once The Mamba retired. As we all know, The Commish threw a major monkey wrench in that plan and under nation-wide scrutiny, orchestrated a trade may have changed the basketball hierarchy in Southern California. New Orleans traded Paul to the Clippers for G Eric Gordon, F Al-Farouq Aminu and C Chris Kaman. New Orleans also received an additional first round pick to go along with the one that they already have in next year’s draft. Looking back in retrospect, the Commish was correct. The deal with the Lakers would’ve made the Hornets competitive now, but the deal with the Clippers not only brought in some outstanding young players in Gordon and Aminu, but they soon will have the opportunity to take Kaman’s expiring contract off the books and they still have 2 potential lottery picks to boot. I could see why that type of situation could be attractive to a potential buyer. For all the flack he took for voiding the initial trade proposal, The Commish never wavered and in the end, proved to be quite the general manager.

Meanwhile, in the other home locker room of the Staple Center, the Lakers were left bending over, holding their ankles. Having the trade for Paul vetoed was one thing, but now he was traded to a team that shares the same zip code and arena as they do. They were left with having to deal with the aftermath from wanting to part ways with Gasol and Odom. Odom was so distraught that he requested to be traded, which of course LA obliged by sending him to Dallas. This is when things became a little confusing. The initial goal was to get either Paul or Howard, if not both. The trade for Paul fell through so the next viable option was to go after Howard. Realistically, Orlando has to know that Howard will not be re-signing with them, regardless of what tune he may singing this week. The bottom line is that the Lakers had already tried to trade Gasol and Odom for Paul, so why not try to package Odom with Bynum or Gasol for Howard, even if it meant taking on Hedo Turkoglu’s contract (I believe that Hedo still has some game left). Instead, LA decided to dump Odom for a first-round pick and an $8.9 million trade exception. Was it just a coincidence that Orlando then publicly announced that Howard was no longer on the market? Now that Paul has teamed up with Blake Griffin, Howard would be wise to take his talents to Brooklyn and join forces with Deron Williams. After all, owner Mikhail Prokhorov, who is worth about $18 billion according to Forbes magazine, has definitely demonstrated that he’s willing to do what it takes to bring a championship to the five boroughs.

Back in the other locker room, The Clippers have loaded up by adding Caron Butler and Chauncy Billups to go along with Paul and matched the Golden State offer for C DeAndre Jordan. These are significant moves considering that soon they will need something tangible if they are going to have any shot of re-signing Griffin. All signs are pointing towards a bright future. On the other hand, The Lakers will start the season with an aging Bryant, a disgruntled Gasol and Bynum, who by the way will be missing the first five games due to a suspension levied against him for his assault on JJ Barera.

You can’t blame the Lakers for what transpired over the past two weeks. They knew they had a major hole at the point guard position and by all accounts they did what they had to do to address that issue in a major way. Little did they know (Or anyone else for that matter) that The Commish would not only void that trade but eventually trade that asset to another franchise in the same city. A franchise that has had two winning seasons since they moved to Los Angeles in 1984 and who just capitalized on The Lakers misfortune. The Clippers may have the upper hand now, but the season has yet to start and until they start hanging banners in Staples, Los Angeles will remain Lakertown. Only time will tell if there will be a changing of the guard.—Mike A. Layne

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