Déjà vu for Lakers?
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - September 20, 2020 - 12:00am

Are the Los Angeles Lakers headed for a repeat of the 2009 NBA Finals? In the ongoing Orlando bubble playoffs, L.A. has raced to a 9-2 record, losing only the openers of the Portland and Houston series. The Lakers made sure to shake off the Game 1 jinx by demolishing Denver, 126-114, to start their Western Conference Finals (WCF) duel yesterday morning (Manila time).

In 2009, the Lakers ousted Houston in the Western Conference semifinals and Denver in the WCF then disposed of Orlando, 4-1, in the Finals. Kobe Bryant led the charge for coach Phil Jackson and was one of only two Lakers who were at least 30. Bryant was 30 and Derek Fisher, 34. Others in the L.A. lineup included Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, Luke Walton, Trevor Ariza, Andrew Bynum and Jordan Farmar.

The Lakers’ road to the Last Dance this season parallels 2009. In the second round, L. A. also beat the Rockets and in the WCF, the Lakers are a cinch to bowl over the Nuggets. If and when L. A. advances to the Finals, the Lakers will play in Orlando where they clinched in 2009. Unlike the 2009 cast, the current version is loaded with 30-and-over veterans – eight in all. They’re LeBron James, 35, Dwight Howard, 34, Jared Dudley, 34, J. R. Smith, 34, Rajon Rondo, 33, JaVale McGee, 32, Danny Green, 32 and Markieff Morris, 30. Coach Frank Vogel put a premium on experience to guarantee poise down the stretch. LeBron, of course, had more than a hand in assembling his supporting cast.

The 2009 path, however, was a bit rocky for the Lakers who went seven games with Houston and six with Denver before dismantling Orlando in five.  The playoff format was then 2-3-2 so when L. A. clinched in Game 5, it was in Orlando where the Lakers happen to be now.

While the Lakers are heavily favored to dump the Nuggets to make it to this year’s Finals, Denver will try not to go away quietly. Denver was crushed in Game 1 but the Nuggets are like a rubber band – they’re pushed all the way back then recoil with a fierce velocity. They’re the first team in NBA history to win back-to-back series from 1-3 deficits and they did it in the bubble. In the Utah series, Denver lost three in a row, including a 37-point blowout then won three straight to clinch. In the L.A. Clippers series, the Nuggets lost the opener by 23 and won the last three games to advance. Denver’s problem is lack of depth. The Nuggets are a two-man show with Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray. They can’t carry the load on their own against the Lakers in a 48-minute game. They’ll need backup but that’s something the other Nuggets can’t provide on a consistent basis. Jokic is 24 and Murray, 22. Only Paul Millsap, 34, is at least 30 so Denver’s an extremely young and inexperienced team. Despite their history of resilience, the Nuggets will be putty in the Lakers’ hands and lucky to win even a game in their series.

LeBron is in his 17th season and if he wins the Finals MVP trophy, will become the only player ever to be honored wearing three different jerseys. In the regular season, he averaged a career-high 10.2 assists to go with his norms of 25.3 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.2 steals. His impact on the Lakers and the entire league had to be more resounding than whatever Giannis Antetokounmpo did for Milwaukee. Giannis took regular season MVP honors last year and won it again this year with 85 first place votes compared to LeBron’s 16. Choosing the MVP is purely subjective and based on 100 votes from global media plus one vote from a fan poll. Media covering a home NBA team are not allowed to vote. So you wonder who are the 100 voters and how were they selected? How can the NBA allow the MVP to be picked solely on the basis of a vote? In the PBA, the MVP is chosen through a points system that considers stats and votes from players, media and the PBA office and is for the entire season, including the playoffs.  The PBA’s way to pick the MVP appears to be better than the NBA’s.

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