The Fundamentals

» May 17, 2009 1:04 PM | By Brandon Hoffman

Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times:  “This one is on Phil. If the powerful Lakers unimaginably lose Game 7 and the Western Conference semifinals to the puny Houston Rockets today, the loudest, angriest thunder will crash down upon Zeus himself. This one is on Phil. There will be folks wanting to skewer Kobe Bryant, and certainly, while Bryant has played hard and smart, would Magic Johnson have let this happen? There will be mounds of blame placed on Pau Gasol, and absolutely, he has been spun around by a Houston sprocket named Hayes, and I don’t mean Elvin.There will be handfuls of fingers pointed at Andrew Bynum, and, yes, he hasn’t even been as aggressive as his scratchy knee brace. There will also be frustration at Derek Fisher, and sure, he has been regularly beaten by Aaron Brooks while countering with the sum total of one forearm shiver. But the conscience of this team has always rested in its coach.”

J.A. Adande of  “The Lakers can still win this series and still win a championship. Matchups matter more than momentum, and the Lakers went 7-1 against the Nuggets, Cavaliers and Celtics this season. They just have to get there first. The two paths beyond are simple. Favorable matchups versus uncomfortable questions. The last time the Lakers played a Game 7 at Staples Center was the epic fourth-quarter comeback against the Portland Trail Blazers in 2000. And this is the most important single game for the franchise since then. In 2000, the mini-dynasty almost ended before it began. If the Lakers lost that year, the Shaq-Kobe tandem might never have lasted long enough to win a championship. The Lakers could put up with the inner tension as long they were winning; having the memory of playoff failure hanging over their heads could have turned the next inevitable spat into a roster shakeup. This time it’s not a matter of clashing egos. The team gets along well enough; there’s a single leader established. It’s time for him to show that he, in and of himself, is enough.”

Gregg Patton of The Press-Enterprise:  “For five years since Shaquille O’Neal left, Bryant has been angling for this stage — the chance to run his supporting cast, his franchise, his city to a title. It’s the same obsession that almost blew up the show less than two years ago, the burn that had him seeking a better place to make his championship mark. He had given up on the Lakers, given up on their front office and their owner, sure that he was trapped in a losing cycle, with his career cresting. Overnight, of course, things got better. The Lakers looked good for a long time last year as they made it all the way to the Finals. But no one blamed Bryant for losing to Boston, the better team. It was clear the Lakers had a bigger upside — and they did, all the way to today. To this game. To him. These are the showdowns in which the legends before him have left their footprints — the Magics and the Kareems, the Birds and the Jordans, and yes, the Shaqs. When these moments came, they were the dominant figures on the floor. The ones who took control, made sure.”

Richard Justice of the Houston Chronicle:  “The Rockets don’t have as much size or experience as the Lakers. The Rockets don’t have a player as good as Kobe Bryant. The Rockets don’t have a lot of things, and they especially have little margin for error. If they miss shots and get careless with the ball, they can be run off the floor as they were in Game 5. What they’ve also shown is that when they take care of business, they have enough speed, tenacity, smarts and confidence to win. Mainly what they have is a team. As they’ve lost star players to injuries, other players have stepped forward and bonded and performed better than the outside world thought possible. That’s the part of this story that’s easy to overlook. The Rockets think they’re going to win. The Rockets believe. ‘I admire this team as much as any team I’ve ever had,’ Rockets owner Leslie Alexander said Saturday afternoon. ‘To persevere like they have, losing their two best players, a lot of teams quit. This team is all about pride and heart, and I admire them greatly.’”

Jerome Soloman of the Houston Chronicle:  “Assembled from various corners of the world, the cast of characters that forms the Houston Rockets has come together to display unity at its best. Houston might not be the NBA’s best basketball team, but it could be the best team. Despite their wide-ranging backgrounds, there may not be an NBA squad with a closer bond than the Rockets. Almost certainly, not one is more relaxed and fun-loving. Even as they prepared for a decisive, loser-goes-home playoff tilt against the Los Angeles Lakers today, they remained as unruffled, imperturbable and carefree as always. ‘That’s just the character of this team,’ forward Chuck Hayes said. ‘We’re a really close group of guys. We laugh, we yell at each other and we get into arguments. ‘On this team you really can’t be sensitive, because we’re going to let you have it.’ They hail from all over the world — China, South America, Africa, the East Coast, the West Coast, the Midwest, Louisiana. ‘Yeah, we’re the United Colors of Benetton,’ Ron Artest joked.”

Mark Murphy of The Boston Herald:  “The Celtics are about to play their fourth Game 7 in two years, and as far as Rivers is concerned, some moments don’t require words – especially words followed by exclamation points. Besides, the players probably aren’t listening, anyway. ‘Game 7 is the ultimate player’s game,’ he said after yesterday’s practice. ‘Like I’ve said the last three or four times, I asked (the players) ‘What was my last Game 7 speech?’ They didn’t know. ‘They didn’t know because they weren’t listening. They’re just ready to play.’ It’s a good thing they weren’t listening, too. ‘I don’t have one,’ Rivers said of a speech that would come in handy before tonight’s conference semifinal conclusion against Orlando. ‘I’ve figured I don’t need one. Listen, if you need a rah-rah speech for Game 7, then your team’s probably in a little trouble. Game 7 is a rah-rah speech.’”

Bob Ryan of The Boston Globe:  “Allen went through an even worse stretch last year. There was a 13-game stretch from Atlanta 1 through Detroit 4 in which he shot 9 for 51 on threes. But the shot returned in Detroit 5, and life was good once again for the remainder of the playoffs. Every last one of the Celtics knows what this Game 7 thing is all about. ‘The crowd will be as loud as it’s been all year, and that will give us a boost,’ says Pierce. ‘It’s like a heavyweight fight. Get knocked down. Get up. Get knocked down. Get up.’ Pierce can also speak from the vantage point of a man who has scored 41 points in a Game 7. ‘It’s not for everybody,’ he says. ‘Some guys play well under that pressure. Some don’t.’ At the other end of the spectrum is a large young man who has never been in this situation. ‘Everything’s on the line for both teams,’ says Dwight Howard. ‘I guess this is going to be my college experience right here. One and done.’”

Zach McCann for the Boston Herald:  “The Orlando Magic are about to play one of the biggest games of their lives, but you wouldn’t know it by the mood of the team’s practice yesterday morning. There was the usual joking, laughing, hooting and hollering within the team after practice, including sarcastic talk of assistant coach Patrick Ewing’s public guarantee that the Magic will win Game 7 – one he made on ESPN Radio 980 in Washington. ‘Even though I’m not playing, I’m guaranteeing a win,’ said Ewing on air. Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy sees the team’s attitude as a reflection of its buoyancy. ‘Confidence has never been an issue with this group,’ Van Gundy said. ‘I think there’s other people whose confidence in our team wavers, but I don’t think the confidence inside our locker room and inside our team has ever wavered.’ The Magic are going to need all the confidence they can get, as they’ll face the Celtics tonight at the Garden in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. ‘This is fun more than anything,’ Rashard Lewis said. ‘You want to approach the game the way you would approach any other game. You don’t want to think about what would happen if you lose.’”

Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel:  “You shouldn’t be guaranteeing a Magic win; you should be predicting a Magic loss. Don’t you know this team is at its best not when you swear by them, but when you swear AT them. All year, they have created perceived slights and snubs and responded to them. Before the playoffs even began, Rashard Lewis said, ‘Nobody believes in us and that’s how we like it.’ After Game 6, Van Gundy admitted his Magic play well in dire situations. ‘That’s been a trademark of our team,’ he said. Translation: This team plays much better with a chip on its shoulder than it does with a pat on its back. Adversity is the Magic’s ally; prosperity is their curse. They rally around trouble and turmoil. Their two most lopsided victories in the playoffs came when Howard was suspended in Game 6 against Philadelphia and when starting point guard Rafer Alston was suspended in Game 3 against Boston. Their most important win came in Game 6 against the Celtics after Howard created a national buzz by ripping Van Gundy in the aftermath of the Game 5 meltdown.”

Mitch Lawrence of the Daily News:  “After Griffin, there’s a big drop to the second tier of players: Spain’s playmaker Ricky Rubio and former UConn center Hasheem Thabeet. Neither is ready to walk in immediately and contribute. After those two, it’s a cast of thousands and all guesswork. ‘This could be one of the worst drafts ever,’ said one Eastern Conference president. ‘Of course, we’re coming off two pretty good drafts.’ Not that the last two crops will do anything for the Kings if they don’t come away with the grand prize, a 6-10 scorer who has impressed in recent workouts against the Kings’ Kenny Thomas. Griffin is drawing comparisons to – are you sitting down? – Karl Malone. ‘Blake’s starting point is so high, as long as the guy stays healthy, he’s going to be a monster,’ said Bob Hill, the former NBA coach who has been working out Griffin, along with Thomas and draft prospects, for the past month in the Bay Area. ‘I don’t like to make comparisons,’ Hill said. ‘But he’s a Karl Malone-type and he’s taller than Karl. In sneakers, he’s measured over 6-10 and that makes for a huge difference.’”

Mike Vaccaro of the New York Post:  “This is the big leagues. Guys get paid. Guys switch cities. They switch uniforms. New York, Chicago and Los Angeles are what they are, and one thing they aren’t is Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Minneapolis. For better and for worse. Still . . . OK. I’ll just say it. There is nothing — and I mean nothing — I would rather see on God’s green sporting earth than LeBron James as a Knick. Basketball is my wheelhouse sport, the game I played and thus care about more than any other. And as a guy who gets to see a lot of terrific sporting events up close, I can tell you this, too: there is nothing — nothing — that beats a big game at Madison Square Garden. Nothing. And there is nobody — nobody — who would guarantee a full decade’s worth of big games at the Garden than James, if he were to actually follow the Knicks’ make-a-wish blueprint and sign on after next season. It would be magic every night, 41 nights a year, plus playoffs . . . and I hope it doesn’t happen.”

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