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WEDNESDAY WIRE (Late Edition)

LIVING IN “LA LA LAND”
The Spurs Are Not the Only Team at Risk of a Harsh Reality Check



The Spurs’ hopes for a long playoff run appear to be nothing more than a dream. What began as a fantastic fantasy quickly turned into a nightmare thanks to injuries, inconsistent play, and a mild-hatter at the helm. After chasing Richard Jefferson down the rabbit hole, we find ourselves still in need of more athletic players and more depth. The once crafty Tony Parker disappeared under a mound of injuries, leaving our offense clueless and without any creativity. The unpredictable, ever-changing “mad” mastermind, Coach Pop, now appears docile, just a shadow of the Mad-Hatter of old. The Spurs’ dream world has crumbled like a house of cards, but there are several other teams that still enjoy the confines of their own “La La Land” that may soon come crashing down when the playoffs dawn.

Currently sitting in the second spot in the East is the gritty and extremely athletic Orlando Magic. They possess a slew of solid role players roaming from the tenacious Matt Barnes to the capable Marcin Gortat. As the season grinds on, weaknesses once hidden now make themselves manifest, threatening the magic that led Orlando to the Championship game just last year. The first flaw developed before the season even began when Hedo Turkoglu headed north of the border. His replacement, Vince Carter, does not have the necessary skills to run the once impervious pick and role. The cohesive unit, glued together by “The Turk’s” broad offensive skills, developed into a black-hole that often leaves players standing around waiting for someone (Vince Carter) to make a great individual play. The profusely talented Jameer Nelson, missed nearly half of the season with injury, but poor shooting continues to taint his much anticipated return. Extending the silent decay, Rashard Lewis has seen significant drops in all areas of his game, deepening the offensive deficit. If playoffs began today, the Magic would be facing a dangerous Bobcats team with nothing to lose, potentially ruining Orlando’s dreamy fairy-tale ending.

The Cavaliers look like giants compared to their gnomish opponents in the East. The freakish man-child, LeBron James, has a physique that would dwarf Terrell Owens, the speed of Usain Bolt, and hops that make even “His Airness” stop and admire. I am working on using genetics to link LeBron with the only other perfect specimen on the planet, Chuck Norris (it’s all in the beards). Unfortunately, the Cavs greatest asset is also their greatest weakness. LeBron’s size allows him to attack the rim or post up most defenders that play his position, but when he is forced to work from the perimeter, he struggles to create shots. Without LeBron’s attack, the Cavaliers lack another scorer who can get their own shot, leaving the offense in the hands of good, but streaky shooters like Mo Williams and Delonte West. The addition of Antawn Jamison will help, but as a power forward, Jamison is undersized at his position and can be taken advantage of. More well-rounded teams, like the Atlanta Hawks, could expose these holes and send the Cavaliers packing before they reach the promised land.

Surrounded by celebs, politicians, and big wigs of every kind, the L.A. scene is where “La La Land” is most at home. As leaders in the Western Conference, the Lakers have been given the golden ticket and apparently were awarded a free pass to the finals. Not so fast. Clearly the Lakers have been in a slump the past couple of weeks, while it is a welcomed sight, don’t expect them to be limping when the playoffs arrive. Kobe, Odom, Gasol, and Artest are battle tested, hardened playoff warriors and will not go down easily, but when these big names sit, who is left? Names like Farmar, Walton, and Vujacic don’t exactly strike fear in the hearts of the opponent. The Lakers’ bench is ranked 26th out of 30 teams in efficiency this year; surpassing only Memphis, New Jersey, the Clippers, and Washington. The Lakers are the only team in the West below 18th, leaving them helpless if injury or the foul bug strikes during the playoffs. Kobe’s raw natural ability masks many holes including the lack of a quality point guard. Every possession rides on Kobe Bryant, he is too smart to shut down completely, but take away Kobe’s teammates and you will limit the Lakers’ ability to make plays. The Lakers are a long defensive team, and very difficult to attack, but get this team in foul trouble and the door to victory will open. The return of Andrew Bynum will correct some of these problems. Having not played since mid March, the road to recovery is hardly smooth during the playoffs; Bynum could be an easy target for late rotations and foul trouble for players willing to attack the belly of the giant. Teams with better depth and front court talent like Utah, Dallas, and a healthy Spurs team, could give the Lakers a run for their money.

The Spurs have struggled, but recent successes, even without Tony Parker, shine a glimmer of hope as we approach the playoffs. The Spurs have the best performing bench in every area of the game, and their depth will be the key to making a run during the playoffs. Pop needs to get his team into attack mode; getting into the paint allows the Spurs to compete with younger, and frankly, more talented teams. We cannot continue to jack up threes when we are either too tired or too lazy to attack the rim. Richard Jefferson’s role needs to be clarified, and he should play when Parker and Ginobili are not in the game. Pairing Jefferson and Hill, I believe allows Jefferson the mental green light to score at will. A championship is just one steal, one rebound, or one hustle play away; the Spurs must fight if they want to bring another ring back to the Alamo City.

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