NBA: In this postseason, anything can happen, but it looks like a familiar finals
By Mark Heisler
Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES — Half-way to Orlando.
Oh, the Magic lost the first two to the Celtics?
No, I haven't been watching the East Finals. I'm in mourning for LeBron James, and besides, I've got a life. On off nights, I watch "Sopranos" reruns over and over in a never-ending loop.
OK, make that half-way to Boston.
(Note to desk: If this turns out to be a hoax, please adjust accordingly.)
As you may have heard, the first one now will later be last for the times, they are a-changin' — and rarely the way they've changed this post-season.
When the playoffs started, the Cavaliers looked unbeatable, the Lakers looked vulnerable and the Celtics looked like someone had stuck a fork in them.
Now the Lakers are strolling through the West, 2-0 up on the Suns in this Boyz vs. Men series after Wednesday night's 124-112 victory, on a collision course with the Celtics who stuck a fork in the Cavaliers and are 2-0 up on Orlando, which was off for a week before the East Finals and, apparently, forgot how to play.
Aside from making the Lakers, their fans, the Celtics, their fans, the league office and the TV networks giddy, the unexpected prospect of a Lakers-Celtics Finals changes everything.
Last season, the Lakers beat the Magic with Andrew Bynum playing a minor role, trying to come back after missing two months.
Two seasons ago, the Celtics mauled the Lakers with Bynum out and Pau Gasol at center, looking like a flamingo in a cement mixer against Boston's Kendrick Perkins.
The Lakers need Bynum against the Celtics... with Andrew now playing with torn cartilage in his knee, trying to see how long he can go before requiring surgery.
ABC's Jeff Van Gundy even suggested pulling Bynum out of this series, since the Lakers can tower over the Suns without him, perhaps even for a quick arthroscopic proceedure to get him ready for the Finals.
However, with no certainty it could have Bynum back in 10 days, the Laker medical staff has no procedures scheduled.
Instead, they're all just tiptoeing through this.
"We'll really be watching it closely," said Coach Phil Jackson before the game.
"We know if we're fortunate enough to continue in the playoffs, there will be bigger, more powerful centers ahead."
Bynum went 18 minutes Wednesday, only five in the second half, scoring 13 points with seven rebounds in one of his better recent performances.
In the bad news for the Lakers, the knee isn't getting any better.
"It's just painful, that's all it is, so I'll keep trying to play," said Bynum. "Today I was able to be a little more effective out there....
"It's getting a little more painful but that's because I'm playing on a torn meniscus. It is what it is."
It's a big question mark, is what it is.
A nice rest before the Finals would help but the Lakers have to get one of the next two in Phoenix with the Suns no longer looking like deer in their headlights.
Of course, if the Suns could defend a little bit, they'd pose a real problem.
Fortunately for the Lakers, averaging 126 and shooting 57 percent in the series, there's no sign of that yet.
The Suns aren't soft in the middle. They aren't in the middle period.
Having proven they couldn't play man-to-man defense, they tried a zone in Wednesday's first quarter, although there seemed to be some confusion over who was supposed to cover the area in front of the basket.
The first time the Lakers saw the zone, Gasol got the ball five feet from the basket, wide open, and made the easy shot.
On their next possession, Lamar Odom drove right down the lane and laid the ball in.
For the piece de resistance with time running out at the end of the half, Derek Fisher drove the lane in a 1-4 set they usually reserve for Kobe Bryant and laid the ball in.
As for Amare Stoudemire's stroke of genius, calling Odom lucky after he got 19-19 in Game 1, that worked out the way you'd expect.
"Somebody said it's bulletin board material, it gives them the opportunity to get fired up," said Coach Alvin Gentry, standing up for his wacko before the game.
"If you have to have somebody said something about you to be able to get fired up to play in the Western Conference finals, then something's wrong."
Gentry, who coached Odom with the Clippers, may have forgotten Lamar does, indeed, need somebody to say something about him to get fired up to play in the Western Conference Finals, especially coming off a big game.
Prodded by Stoudemire, Lamar got another 17-11 while Amare's luck, and effort, produced 18 points and six rebounds.
Nevertheless, you don't want to miss one moment of this mismatch. The way things are going this spring, the Suns and Magic could meet in the Finals.