NBA Finals: Show time varies but Lakers are still best
All along, I've thought the Lakers were the NBA's best team this season and that Kobe Bryant would win his first championship without best buddy Shaquille O'Neal.
When the playoffs started, I picked the Lakers to sweep the Jazz.
They won in five games.
Before the second round, I picked the Lakers to beat Houston in five games.
It took seven, after a Game 1 loss at home.
Prior to the Western Conference finals, I picked the Lakers in five games over Denver.
Again, they needed six.
Conclusion: L.A. has not been as dominant as I thought it would be -- should be -- in the playoffs.
Andrew Bynum continues to struggle, Lamar Odom has become less of a factor after he once again killed Utah in the first round and coach Phil Jackson has been forced to shorten his bench because nonstarters Luke Walton, Sasha Vujacic and Jordan Farmar have not contributed at typical levels.
Still, after taking a 2-0 lead over Orlando in the Finals, the Lakers are well on their way to the title they have seemed destined to win from the beginning, especially after injuries decimated most the teams capable of challenging them -- Utah, San Antonio, Houston and New Orleans in the Western Conference and defending champion Boston in the East.
The Magic did their part, too, by badly outplaying and ultimately embarrassing Cleveland in the Eastern Conference finals.
LeBron James Inc. was the only team left in the Final Four capable of beating the Lakers in a seven-game series.
But the Cavs squandered their chance, refueling the notion that James won't ever win a championship on the shores of Lake Erie and the castle of his next kingdom will be Madison Square Garden.
Check back next summer, after Carlos Boozer's first season in Detroit and the NBA's cursory tampering investigation fails to produce any evidence of wrongdoing by the Pistons or agent Rob Pelinka.
Speaking of justice -- or lack thereof -- the Magic can take solace from the fact that an uncalled basketball interference violation on the Lakers' Pau Gasol in the final second of regulation prevented them from tying the series in Game 2.
While I remain convinced an Orlando victory would have only delayed an inevitable Laker championship, it's too bad an obvious call that wasn't made had such a profound impact on a game in the NBA Finals.
With six-tenths of a second left in a tie game, the Magic's Hedo Turkoglu lobbed a pass toward the basket.
Courtney Lee, freed by Dwight Howard's back-pick on Bryant, found himself in the clear as the ball approached.
Lee caught the ball slightly behind the backboard but still got off a shot that he would normally make.
As the ball banked off the glass, Gasol arrived and stuck his hand into the net, through the basket and against the rim.
Lee's shot was too hard and missed, but Gasol was clearly guilty of basket interference.
Instead, outside officials Steve Javie and Tom Washington did not make the call and the Lakers eventually escaped in overtime.
After the game, NBA supervisor of officials Bernie Fryer, the BYU grad who played 31 games for the New Orleans Jazz in 1974-75, put the company spin on what had just transpired.
Talking to ESPN.com's Chris Sheridan, Fryer said that since Gasol did not shake the rim or touch the rim while the ball was on it, his officials were correct.
"It was a cut-and-dried no-call," Fryer said.
There's only one problem with that declaration, of course.
It was an obvious call.
I would be willing to wager that, in identical circumstances during a regular-season game, the officials would call basket interference 99 times out of 100 and the Lakers would not have argued.
Instead, L.A. heads to Florida with a 2-0 stranglehold on the series -- their expected championship within reach.
Lakers at Orlando, Tonight, 7 p.m., Ch. 4