Watch Out, 2001 Lakers

The San Antonio Spurs’ success continues as they are now one game away from tying the all-time best playoff start.

It made sense when the Los Angeles Lakers blasted through the NBA in the 2001 playoffs. Shaquille O’Neal was in his prime, Kobe Bryant was nearing his prime and the supporting cast of the Lakers was the best since the 1996-98 Chicago Bulls.

This year’s Spurs seemed like an unlikely team to challenge the Lakers’ 15-1 all-time playoff win percentage (.938). Spurs point guard Tony Parker, although a Finals MVP, has never been considered a superstar. But he’s a big enough star for this Spurs team — emphasis on team — that has not lost since April 11.

It must be pointed out, we’re a day away from June. That’s a long time not to see an “L” in the won-loss column.

San Antonio has won 20 games in a row overall, which includes the first 10 games of the playoffs. The 2001 Lakers had an 11-game win streak to start the playoffs, losing only Game 1 of the NBA Finals to the Allen Iverson-led Philadelphia 76ers. The first round was still a best-of-five series back then, which is why L.A. was in the Finals after just 11 games.

Parker has carried this team on his little point guard shoulders. In the postseason, Parker has put up MVP-type numbers of 20.5 points and 7.1 assists per game. This team shares the scoring wealth and there’s plenty of it.

Power forward Tim Duncan, who’s seeking his fifth NBA title, has slowed slightly from his 20 and 10 days, but still makes for a very dangerous second option. Duncan has been steady in the playoffs with averages of 16.8 points and 9.5 rebounds. Not bad for someone in his 15th NBA season.

Playoff Power

The 2001 Lakers had the most successful playoff run in NBA history. A look at some of their numbers:

Regular season record: 56-26, Pacific Division champions

Postseason record: 15-1 (.938 winning percentage)

Series results: Defeated Portland Trailblazers (3-0), defeated Sacramento Kings (4-0), defeated San Antonio Spurs (4-0), defeated Philadelphia 76ers (4-1)

Sixth man Manu Ginobili is San Antonio’s third scorer at 13.6 per game. Five other players average at least 6.9 points or more per game (Boris Diaw, Tiago Splitter, Gary Neal, rookie Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green). With a lineup like that, it’s tough to key in on one player. You don’t know where the scoring punch is going to come from.

This is very different from the ’01 Lakers. You knew exactly where the scoring threats were and there wasn’t a damn thing any team could do about it.

O’Neal and Bryant couldn’t be stopped and couldn’t be double teamed, what were teams going to do, play one defender against the Lakers’ other three offensive players?

The Diesel won his second straight Finals MVP with video game numbers of 30.4 points, 15.4 rebounds, 2.38 blocks and 3.2 assists per playoff game. He also shot 55 percent from the field.

Bryant, who hadn’t yet adopted the Black Mamba nickname (“Kill Bill” hadn’t been released yet) but was still just as lethal, almost averaged 30 points per game himself. His averages of 29.4 points, 7.3 rebounds, 6.1 assists per game to go along with a team-leading 43.4 minutes average made Bryant a legitimate Batman instead of a Robin; O’Neal was Superman, obviously.

If not for Iverson’s heroics and the rest of the 76ers playing the game of their lives in Game 1 and still barely winning in overtime, the Lakers would have had a perfect postseason.

The Spurs still have a chance at playoff immortality. It will be tough going to Oklahoma City for Games 3 and 4. If San Antonio wins tonight, it will tie the Lakers’ 11-0 start and still be in the running to match and beat the ’01 playoff win percentage.

As good as the Spurs have been, it’s tough to imagine them sweeping OKC then bringing out more brooms for what looks like the Miami Heat in the championship round.

Hornets Win the Lottery … Really?

First David Stern puts the screws to the Los Angeles Lakers by nixing a very fair Chris Paul deal (the Hornets certainly wouldn’t have been the bottom feeder they were, not with a team led by Kevin Martin, Luis Scola and Lamar Odom). Stern also hurt the Rockets, who desperately wanted Pau Gasol in that deal and obviously didn’t get him.

Talk about league conspiracies, Stern said New Orleans, which was owned by the NBA at the time, didn’t make the trade “for basketball reasons.” OK, that is vague, what he should have said was that small market owners objected to the Lakers, who obviously play in a large market, acquiring one of the best point guards in the game.

Stern lied to Hornets general manager Dell Demps. He said Demps could make deals and sign players without the NBA’s influence. Well, clearly someone else influenced the Hornets. It’s not like the Lakers were offering an unfair deal.

New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson bought the Hornets in April and it wouldn’t be surprising if Stern offered Benson a “discount” of winning the NBA Draft lottery.

What better way to ensure that your team turns things around by rigging the draft? That pick will be no secret either: Kentucky center Anthony Davis will be the first player taken.

At 6 feet 10 inches, Davis dominated college basketball without being a high-impact scorer. His defensive presence, rebounding and ability to block shots earned him Most Outstanding Player at the Final Four after Kentucky beat Kansas in the championship game. Davis scored just six points. He dwarfed the Jayhawks with 16 rebounds, six blocks, five assists and three steals.

New Orleans will immediately become better with Davis in the lineup. The Hornets still might not make the playoffs, but they will be a dangerous team.

Who polices this lottery anyway?

The Charlotte Bobcats had the best chance to win the lottery. Not only were they the worst team in the NBA, they were the worst team of all time. Yet the Hornets, with just a 13.7 percent chance of getting the No. 1 pick, won.

How do we know there isn’t any cheating involved? The team with the worst record in the NBA hasn’t won the lottery since Orlando did in 2004. The Magic resurrected the franchise by choosing Dwight Howard.

Miami Survives Hurricane Rondo

At times, the Boston Celtics look old and slow.

Not Rajon Rondo, who almost won a game by himself yesterday. The 6-foot-1 point guard took matters into his own humongous hands, overshadowing outstanding games by the Heat’s LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Rondo delivered 44 points, 10 assists, eight rebounds, three steals and played all 53 minutes in Boston’s overtime loss at Miami.

The Celtics don’t have a chance on paper against the run-and-gun Heat. Rondo almost evened the series by scoring all 12 of Boston’s points in overtime.

Rondo’s huge line was the first time in NBA playoff history that a player had at least 40 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds in a game.

The series shifts to Beantown for Games 3 and 4. If the C’s don’t win Game 3, this series will be a formality.

It doesn’t look good for Boston. An effort such as Rondo’s would usually bury the opposition. James and Wade, however, routinely blow up the stat sheets.

In Game 2, James countered with 34 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists. James haters always have something to criticize and their one gripe would be that he missed the game-winning shot at the end of regulation.

Wade picked up the slack by scoring 23 points, eight of those in overtime. He clinched the game with a driving layup over Kevin Garnett. Garnett fouled Wade on the play and Wade made sure to give the C’s center a good staredown before knocking down the free throw.

It’s unlikely Rondo will have another scoring outburst like last night. It’s likely that James and Wade will take over games. It’s unlikely Boston will have another 15-point lead on the road.

And unless the Celtics make big changes or an injury to James or Wade occurs, it’s likely Miami will find itself in the NBA Finals.

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