There was tons of anticipation towards today’s two big Christmas match ups. In the first game we had rematch of the NBA Finals between San Antonio and Detroit. Shorthanded isn’t the word to describe the Spurs because while Ginobili is out, they’ve got a former all star taking his place, who is no slouch. Detroit on the other the other hand came into today’s game with a full head of steam, winning six straight, and looking like every bit of the team that Scottie Pippen felt could win 70 games.
San Antonio couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start, scoring only 8 points in the first quarter. All of those points belonged to Tony Parker, who finished the game with 19. San Antonio pulled it together in the second and third quarter, pulling within 4, but it wasn’t enough. In the fourth quarter Detroit pulled away, led by big shots from Rasheed Wallace and Chauncy Billups. Ben Wallace also had a huge 21 board and 10 point performance.
San Antonio shouldn’t look into the loss a whole lot, except for motivation. Detroit is really at the top of their game, they’re 100% healthy, and are clicking on all cylinders right now. San Antonio however still has guys searching for their roles. They had Michael Finley, who was coming into his own as a starter, go 1-7 and was really a non factor. Nazr Mohammed, who was a huge reason why they were able to win the championship last year, isn’t the reliable starting center that he was during that run. San Antonio is a team that won’t begin to hit their stride until later on in the season, this should help them get their heads on straight and start becoming the team they’re capable of. Don’t look into it any more than that, this is still a team that will find itself in the finals come that time of the year with their eyes set on a 2nd straight title.
The Pistons went out there and did exactly what they had to do. They went out there and thoroughly dominated a hobbled, but still pretty good San Antonio team. Especially after watching Miami today, the issues in Indiana, and Cleveland’s inconsistent scoring outside of Lebron James, Detroit looks like their poised to steamroll their way all the way to the NBA Finals for the 3rd year in a row.
Now for the game that everyone wanted to see. The one that, rightfully so, had twice the hype of the Detroit San Antonio game. Neither team really played up to their potential, but in the end Miami, the deeper and more experienced team, pulled it out.
Miami nearly had a relapse of Friday night’s collapse where they were up by 15 on the New Jersey Nets before they ended up losing by 5. They had a 14 point lead during the second quarter, but the Lakers were able to cut deep into that before half time. Still nowhere near 100%, Shaquille O’Neal looked terrible today offensively, but he was a force on the boards with an impressive 17. It may have had something to do with the good defense of Kwame Brown, but Shaquille O’Neal was taking terrible shots that were a bit out of his range considering the condition he’s in.
Dwyane Wade had a frustrating game harped by easy misses and foul trouble. During one sequence, while cutting to the basket, Kobe Bryant hit Wade with an elbow in the eye unintentionally. Upset by the hit, Wade proceeded to throw an elbow of his own back at Kobe, picking up his fourth foul, and putting him on the bench for much of the third. He’s got to learn to control his anger and just play because if it wasn’t for the Lakers going so cold in the fourth quarter, this could have been a game deciding temper tantrum. Wade’s back court mate Gary Payton had his coming out party against a Laker team that traded him off a year ago. Without Gary’s big game, Los Angeles wins this game.
The Lakers had plenty of chances to win this game, but weren’t able to capitalize because of some bad coaching decisions and lack of contribution from the bench. Kobe Bryant was brilliant for the first 28 minutes, having 30 points. However, he didn’t receive his routine 2nd half rest and appeared to be tired for much of the fourth, where he only had 4 points. It appeared that some guys that are usually a reliable part of the regular rotation simply weren’t ready to play in a game of this magnitude. Mainly Sasha Vujacic and Smush Parker, the Lakers two point guards. They gave up a total of 35 points to Jason Williams and Gary Payton. Sasha, a player who depends so much on confidence, probably lost a good portion of it after being chewed out by Kobe Bryant for playing so poorly. This couldn’t have come at a worse time for Sasha, whose minutes were going up with Mckie and Profit out.
Lamar Odom put together a good game when you look at the box score, but when the game got close, Lamar was nowhere to be found. He had chance after chance to hit huge three pointers, but missed all five of his attempts. Brian Cook was incredible in the 3rd quarter, then for some mysterious reason did not play a minute in the 4th. Mihm and Kwame did exceptional jobs on Shaquille, not letting him dominate offensively and just dunk everything, but had trouble keeping him off the boards. Unfortunately for the Lakers, while Kwame’s defense is looking tremendous, his offense is short of terrible.
Pat Riley and the Miami Heat have a long way to go. The window to win a championship does not stay open very long, and right now it’s barely cracked for Miami. They’ve got a chance to compete for a title this year, but they’ve got to get everyone to adapt to their role. Antonie Walker, a very talented and capable player with a huge contract, isn’t fitting in well at all yet with Miami. Shaquille O’Neal is nowhere near the dominant force he’ll need to be for the Heat to even think about being able to beat the Pistons.
Though they let this one slip through their hands, the Lakers shouldn’t let this one bother them. They’ve got an equally important game Monday night at Washington that they need to win. They’ve got to get more than 10 points off their bench, and the defense on opposing point guards needs to improve. It’s still early in the season for this Phil Jackson led team that is playing well above expectations. As they continue to grasp this offense and accept their roles, they should start crawling up the rankings in the west.