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Monday, May 12, 2008

NBA Playoffs, Lakers tied up by the Jazz?

NBA conspiracy theorists have more fodder for their speculation after the past few days of NBA playoff action! We just experience a wild weekend in which every NBA series with the exception of Sunday’s Pistons vs. Magic game has been won by the home team. And these were not just simple wins, rather in many cases these were hugely lopsided games in which the home teams blew out their competition, many times with leads larger than 20 throughout the game.

I am sure David Stern and his NBA office is thrilled with all the additional ticket, television, and advertising revenue. But, we really need to ask some difficult questions.

Are the Boston Celtics really that bad on the road? Their regular season record does not reflect it.

Are San Antonio and New Orleans such home court hotbeds that their teams are so bad on the read leading to 40 point swings? Neither team had that much trouble in their first round.

Did the Lakers stop going to the hoop and getting fouled in Game 4 to lead to such a huge free throw disparity? The Los Angeles Lakers averaged 50% more free throws than the Utah Jazz throughout the 2007-08 NBA season, you would expect that to continue or be reasonably close to that margin in the playoffs, but the Jazz doubling the number of free throws in Game 4 is questionable.

Given these unusual lopsided outcomes, it is really easy to see where these NBA conspiracy theories get started. The refereeing at a minimum in this conference semi-final round has been wildly inconsistent, favoring the home teams leading to some quite lopsided and honestly boring contests.

The hardest part for me to accept (and where I am least objective, I might add) is the fact that the Lakers series is knotted up against the Utah Jazz at 2-2. I think my frustrations with the officiating of the last two games in Salt Lake City are obscured by the fact that the Lakers had opportunities to win both games down the stretch. In Game 4, had it not been for the late game heroics of Derek Fisher and Lamar Odom, we would have been talking about a 15-point game.

I also loved the way Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers team failed to mention anything about the officiating in Game 4. They (and Kobe specifically) simply manned up and stated – no excuses, we just did not get it done.

My two biggest arguments are the ejection of Ronny Turiaf for a phantom flagrant 2, and the free throw disparity in Game 4 for the Jazz. I know what you are thinking, so I will address the Utah free-throw shooting first...

I am sure several of the Jazz fans and the plethora of Lakers haters out there will say – but Ken, why are you complaining about the free-throw disparity in game 4, when the Lakers had clear advantages in games 1 and 2. And that is exactly what everyone should expect – the disparity of the free throws in games 1 and 2 should be a consistent theme throughout the series.

Why, do you ask? It has been that way ALL YEAR LONG. The Lakers are a team that goes to the free throw line an awful lot. The Jazz are not. As I mention earlier in the article, we should expect that the Los Angeles Lakers will shot 50% more free throws than the Utah Jazz. That is the way it was all year long as the type of game Utah plays does not send them to the line. The Utah Jazz shooting greater than 50% more free throws than the Lakers should be an aberration.

And the ejection of Ronny Turiaf for a flagrant 2 foul is absolutely atrocious. Did he foul Ronnie Price? Yes. Was it a hard playoff foul? Yes. Was it after the whistle? Yes. Was it possibly a flagrant 1? Yes. But that is as far as I will go. Ronny Turiaf absolutely had no intention of hurting the kid, caught his arms and body, but did not sling him to the ground. The building was loud and the fact Ronnie Price went the basket that late after the whistle bear some of the responsibility for the fall when Price banged his head on the ground. But ejecting Ronny from the game was an absolutely ridiculous outcome.

(Being on a plane this morning, I have not had the chance to check what others are saying about the ejection – but I am interested to see what others thought.)

Amazingly, the Lakers still had the chance to get it done, even with Kobe noticeably injured with a tweaked back. I was hoping that we would have seen a three-point shot from either Derek Fisher or Sasha Vujacic at the end of regulation rather than going for the two point tie. In a building like Jazz have, you are almost better ending the game there with a win or a loss over taking your chances in overtime.

Were the Lakers perfect in the game? By no means do I wish to indicate that – there are a ton of areas where they need to improve regardless of the outcome of the game. Here are a few that come to my mind.

Pau Gasol – Stop complaining after every shot you take and miss. Yes, I know you are getting fouled every single time by Carlos Boozer. But, when you complain every single time, the refs become immune. Play through it, or get yourself knocked to the ground so the referees have to make a call.

Jordan Farmar – Come on kid, step it up. You were awesome this entire season; the team really needs you not to become a turnover machine. Plus, we need you on defense to slow Deron Williams down rather than watching him blow past you every play.

Kobe Bryant – For a couple of minutes in that 4th Quarter, you almost looked like the Kobe in the playoffs two years ago by hoisting up shots that have no chance of going in. Thank you for trusting your teammates to get the Lakers back in it.

Derek Fisher – Can you please stay out of foul trouble in the first quarter? On Sunday, you did half of it yourself with an “intentional” foul in the first minute. That just sets you up for a ticky-tack foul that can send you to the bench.

I am sure things will turn around Tuesday night in Los Angeles. Hopefully I will also have a little less to complain and rant about. Plus, if the Lakers play the Celtics in the finals – it will feed the conspiracy theories more.

Lastly, it is interesting to consider that the Lakers were just a couple of ball bounces away from sweeping the Utah Jazz. But now, fresh off of two victories Jerry Sloan’s team has reestablished momentum which I am sure they will not relinquish easily.


Johnny said...

Maybe you should get your facts straight before you write an article. I don't know where you're getting your information from, but it's incorrect. The Lakers did not average 50% more free throws than the Jazz during the regular season. The Jazz shot 2,298 free throws during the regular season while the Lakers shot 2,270.