I know that the Rip City Project is a Blazer blog, and I also know that the Blazers’ season is over. But since last Sunday was a historic day for basketball, I felt like I had to add my two cents to the story that is the Dallas Mavericks’ sweep of the Los Angeles Lakers. And to be honest, Portland was the last team to beat the Dallas Mavericks in these Playoffs, and every Blazer fan’s second favorite team is who ever is playing LA, so the Mavericks/Lakers story is at least somehow Blazer related.
The initial question, of course, is what kind of bearing does Dallas’s unlikely drubbing of the former champs have on the Blazers? Seth Johnston at Portland Roundball Society has an interesting take on the importance of not going too deep down the re-building rabbit hole without first contemplating what it’s like to endure a couple seasons of living at the bottom of league, and that Dallas has shown being great doesn’t have to start with starting over.
For me, watching Dallas destroy the Lakers in game four was satisfying, to say the least. Initially, it was hard to watch the Mavericks dismantle LA in games one through four. I really believed that Portland had a shot at Dallas, although the Mavs were definitely the better team for at least five of the six first round games, and it was tough to watch the LA/Dallas series and not imagine Portland in that position instead of Dallas. I was over that by game four though, and watching Dallas annihilate the Lakers to close out the series was a special thing indeed, made all the more special by knowing that Portland accomplished twice what the Lakers didn’t even once.
But there’s more to it than that. Dallas/LA was a big series for all kinds of reasons. Here are the three things that I thought were the most important.
The Series As A Whole
Dallas did some things in the first round that seemed unlikely at best, downright fluky at worst. I’m talking specifically about the three-point shooting of Jason Kidd, and the overall play of Peja Stojakovic. You can no longer write off these two guys as old, and say they won’t be able to maintain high levels of play throughout the course of a series. I know I told myself these two dinosaurs wouldn’t be able to keep up their level of production following Jason Kidd’s play after game one in the first round, and about Peja’s in game two.
Peja might not be able hit six threes in another game, but from now on any team that matches up against Dallas going forward has to game plan at least somewhat for Peja. Don’t tell me that was expected coming into these Playoffs. As for Kidd, he’s three-point shooting wasn’t quite as good in the second round as it was in the first, 7-of-24 in round two as compared to 15-of-38 in round one, but his play showed that at his advanced years he can still lead a team and dictate the pace of not only a single game, but a four-game series. Following Sunday’s clincher, nobody can doubt that some of the Dallas roster that people judged as too old to be contributors may in fact be championship pieces.
More importantly than the individual play of Jason Kidd, Peja Stojakovic, Jason Terry, or Dirk Nowitzki, is the combined play of all those guys, and all the guys on the Dallas bench. The Mavericks beat Portland by getting their guys into spots where they could be effective. Dallas did the same against LA, and then some. It’s unlikely that the Mavericks will suddenly forget how to play their game. The key to beating Dallas in the Conference Finals, or in the Finals after should they get there, will be knocking them off their game. Nobody’s done it yet.
The Andrew Bynum Incident
We’ve all seen the video by now. It’s been talked about probably almost to death, I know, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot, so I thought I should add my opinion to the mix. There was no doubt in anybody’s mind that game four was eventually going to get chippy. Down 30, getting completely embarrassed, you can expect the emotions to get the better of some players.
Having said that, Andrew Bynum’s actions were uncalled for, and completely unnecessary. What’s more, he took an extremely cheap shot at a guy not even half his size, made no effort to make anything remotely related to a basketball play, and reacted in such a way, walking off the court without acknowledging the referees et al., that made the whole thing seem premeditated. Bynum embarrassed himself, his team, and in no small sense the NBA as a whole.
But that’s not the real problem I had with the play of Andrew Bynum. There are many players in the NBA that are praised for their personality as much as they are celebrated for what they can do on the court. Bynum is one of them. He is noted for being a nice and thoughtful young man, well spoken, and well read. A rarity in the NBA. However, Bynum has also shown that he can play with blatant disregard for the well being of other players on the court. He served a suspension for a vicious hit on Michael Beasley near the end of the season, and if his play against JJ Berea is any indication, this guy is miles away from learning his lesson.
I’m not trying to say that it’s not interesting the Bynum is a reader, and a nice guy, and all that other stuff. I’m just saying that when talking about all those things, it’s equally important to mention some pretty reprehensible behavior. Deliberately trying to hurt guys on the court cannot, and should not, be forgiven or overlooked because the guy likes books.
If that shot on Berea isn’t enough to make you question where Bynum’s head is, watch this video, and remember that at the time this happened many people thought Gerald Wallace’s career might be over.
With the Lakers out of the Playoffs, the immediate result is that there will be a new champion of the NBA in 2010-11. The more indirect aftermath is the end of an era. With Phil Jackson stepping down, heading out to Montana where there’s no speed limit and everybody smokes peyote, there will be a major changing of the guard not only in LA, but also in the NBA. Phil Jackson is the most decorated coach in American professional coaching history; not having him in the league opens the door for somebody else to shoot for the title of League’s Best Coach.
More than that, though, somebody will have to be LA’s next coach. I’m sure there are more guys than Brian Shaw being considered for the job, but whoever takes the position might be the luckiest guy on Earth, or the least lucky, depending on the way the offseason shakes out for the Lakers. LA isn’t likely to take it all the way down to nothing, but a significant drop-off in victories will have Laker fans calling for heads to roll before too long.
There are future implications for more than just the Lakers. Dallas has put themselves in the position of favorite, if not in both conferences than at least in the West, and might be able to finally claim that championship that has eluded them for so long. The Mavericks are a team of veteran guys that have gone deep into the postseason without claiming the ultimate goal. If they do win this season, what will that mean for their future? Especially if there’s a lockout. I can see a 38 year-old Jason Kidd wanting to walk away from the game after winning his first championship; same for a 33 year-old Peja Stojakovic with a bad back.
It’s a harder case to make for 10-year plus guys like Jason Terry, Shawn Marion, and Dirk Nowitzki, but whereas a team like Miami or Oklahoma City might be gearing up for a decade of taking shots at the Championship, Dallas has to believe that their championship window probably closes if they win it all this time around.
A Dallas championship could be the end of dynasty. Not a championship dynasty, of course, but a decade of being one of the best and most consistent teams in the league.
So that’s what I’ve got. I’ve gotten over the early end to Portland’s season, and have legitimately enjoyed these Playoffs more than any recent Playoffs I can remember. As for right now, know that we should all be happy that Kobe and the Lakers will not be winning it all this year. It’s a small victory, but it’s a victory nonetheless.