Lakers 2009-10 Season Review

Lakers

For the second straight campaign and 16th time in franchise history, the Lakers emerged from a long regular season and tough playoff run to stand alone as the champions of basketball.

The script may have been written down the road from STAPLES Center in Hollywood, as the title came at the expense of L.A.’s archrival Boston Celtics, who fought Kobe Bryant and Co. down to the final moments of a historic Game 7.

The 83-79 victory produced purple and gold streamers that rained down from the rooftop, celebrating the culmination of a 4-2 series win over Oklahoma City, a 4-0 sweep of Utah, a 4-2 vanquishing of Phoenix and the 4-3 outlasting of Boston.

Internally, at least, the Lakers never lost confidence that they were the league’s best team, that they’d ultimately be holding another trophy while riding down Figueroa Street in downtown Los Angeles as they did for roughly 1 million supporters.

But the skeptics grew after a regular season that ended on a downward spiral, the Lakers winning just four of their final 11 games due in part to injuries – Andrew Bynum missed the team’s final 15 games and Kobe Bryant four of the final five – and in part because L.A. had locked up the top seed in the Western Conference and looked to be keen on hitting the fast-forward button to the second season.

After the Lakers had taken advantage of a favorable home schedule to start the defense of their 2008-09 title over Orlando with a scorching 23-4 start, the 57-25 final record fell short of coach Phil Jackson’s desired 60 wins.

Even General Manager Mitch Kupchak admitted to some “concern” after the regular season, but his stronger sentiment was one of trust.

“At the end of the day, we’re not talking about an inexperienced roster or coaching staff,” he said. “This team, based on what they’ve accomplished and not just recently deserves the chance to go into the playoffs and make any adjustments that they feel necessary. We all know that no matter what happened 10 days ago or three weeks ago, everybody will be evaluated based on how the season ends.”

And so they would be, after 16 more victories, as champions.

All-Stars Bryant and Pau Gasol were respectively terrific throughout; Andrew Bynum made great strides in maturity while battling through a difficult knee injury; Lamar Odom made key contributions when such were mandated; Ron Artest, the only new addition, played his best when it mattered most; Derek Fisher proved yet again why “clutch” will always be associated with his name; and Jordan Farmar, Shannon Brown and Sasha Vujacic found ways to boost L.A. off the bench when called upon.

“We did it with perseverance,” said Jackson, earning an almost unbelievable 11th coaching title. “It’s about the joy for this group of guys that put so much work (in). They’re a willing group and I’m very proud of them and very happy for them.”

What the Lakers showed throughout the season, as they had in the previous year, was that they played their best when they needed to, refusing to lose a game they felt – or knew – had to be won.

The season opened with a 99-92 victory over the Clippers as the 2009 championship rings were handed out, and included a number of other key wins:

  1. Nov. 12 – Lakers 121, Suns 102: L.A. blows out their toughest opponent to date to move to 7-1, after Phoenix had opened red hot on an Eastern swing.
  2. Dec. 16 – Lakers 107, Bucks 106: Kobe Bryant’s game-winning jumper improved L.A.’s league-best record to 20-4, just a game after Bryant scored a season-high 42 points in a road victory over Chicago.
  3. Jan. 3 – Lakers 131, Mavericks 96: After uninspired losses to Cleveland on Christmas and at Phoenix, L.A. destroyed the West’s No. 2 team by 35 points, storming out to a 30-13 lead after the first quarter, reminding everyone – and perhaps themselves – who controlled the West. L.A. then backed it up 10 days later by winning 100-95 in Dallas despite missing Pau Gasol and in spite of Bryant’s sore back (he hit the game winner anyway).
  4. Jan. 31 – Lakers 90, Celtics 89: Still another Bryant game winner, this time over Ray Allen, gave L.A. its second straight regular season win in Boston, foreshadowing the Lakers’ Game 3 win in the Finals.
  5. March 24 – Lakers 99, Spurs 92: L.A.’s tough road win in San Antonio pushed the team’s winning streak to seven, which also included a 102-96 victory at Phoenix, L.A. again making known that the West still belonged to the Lakers.

While every playoff game takes on a greater degree of importance, L.A. won each game it absolutely needed to in the postseason as well. The critical Game 5 of Round 1 saw L.A. pound Oklahoma City 111-87; in Game 3 of Round 2, the Lakers took Utah’s best shot before late threes from Derek Fisher and Kobe Bryant produced a 111-110 win; Ron Artest tipped in Kobe Bryant’s miss at the buzzer of Game 5 against Phoenix in the Western Finals before Bryant hit masterful daggers in Game 6’s 111-103 clincher.

Then in the Finals, the Lakers atoned for a Game 2 loss at home with a critical 91-84 victory in Game 3 at Boston thanks largely to Fisher’s 11-point fourth quarter, pounded the Celtics with a terrific 89-67 Game 6 effort, and overcame a 13-point third quarter deficit in Game 7 to win the title.

That, of course, is what made them the world’s best basketball team.

Bryant Gasol

All Stars Bryant, Gasol Lead the Way

The Lakers were led by two All-Stars – Kobe Bryant (12 time All-Star) and Pau Gasol (third time) – that shone brightly indeed throughout excellent individual seasons.

Bryant was named to the All-NBA First Team (eighth time in his career) and All-NBA Defensive First Team while averaging 27.0 points, 5.4 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 1.55 steals in the regular season and 29.2 points, 6.0 boards, 5.5 assists and 1.35 steals in the postseason, capped by his second straight Finals MVP trophy.

The Spaniard was named to the All-NBA Third Team despite missing 17 games with two different hamstring strains, averaging 18.3 points, 11.3 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.74 blocks on 53.6 percent shooting in the regular season and 19.6 points, 11.1 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.09 blocks on 53.9 percent shooting in the playoffs.

Gasol shared his thoughts on the relationship between what many would argue are the NBA’s best inside and outside players.

“It’s great. I think we both have great respect for each other. Kobe’s an unbelievable player. I’ve been very fortunate so far to play with him. I think we compliment each other really well. We’re communicating every year better and better. It’s a great relationship, obviously it’s key for us to have that relationship in order for the whole team to function. We understand what our roles are and what importance we have on the team.”quote>

Artest Proves His Worth
Ron Artest When the Lakers signed Ron Artest in place of Trevor Ariza to open free agency following the team’s 2009 championship, GM Mitch Kupchak shared that his new starting small forward couldn’t be properly judged until after the season.

As it turned out, Artest turned into everything the Lakers were hoping for.

“I think he was great,” said Kupchak. “Throughout the year he always worked hard, and I think he’ll be better next year … You always wonder when you sign a free agent because you don’t know that person, but I will say that from the beginning, there were no problems on the court or off the court.”

Artest played a critical role in an obviously improved team defense that ranked in the NBA’s top five in field goal percentage against throughout the season, and drew opponent’s best perimeter scoring threat on a nightly basis to take pressure off Kobe Bryant on D. Names like LeBron, Carmelo, Dwyane, Pierce and Durant were all given to Artest, who consistently held players below their scoring average.

That was no more evident than in the postseason, when Artest took Kevin Durant far outside his comfort zone and held him a full 12.6 percentage points below his regular season shooting average (35.0% to 47.6%) while chipping 5.1 points off his 30.1 average.

Artest further limited Jazz wing C.J. Miles, Suns guard Jason Richardson and most importantly, Celtics forward Paul Pierce, whom Artest held to 18 points per game on 43 percent shooting after PP averaged 24 points on 53 percent shooting in the Eastern Finals.

Perhaps Ron Ron’s value was best symbolized in an anecdote shared by Kobe Bryant, who explained that Artest won him over immediately when Bryant repeatedly spotted him working out in hotel rooms in the middle of the night when the team was on road trips. That type of extra work was usually reserved to Bryant, but in seeing Artest right there with him, respect was sealed for the season.

Bynum Grows
“All I was thinking was that ‘I have to play,’ and ‘I’m going to play.’ I wanted to be a part of it anyway I could.”

That’s how Andrew Bynum described playing with a small tear of the meniscus in his right knee throughout the playoffs, for which he earned lasting respect from his teammates and the organization.

Andrew Bynum Bynum averaged 15.0 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.45 blocks on 57 percent shooting in 30 minutes per game in a mostly-healthy regular season (he played 65 games and suffered a strained Achilles injury), then contributed 8.6 points and 6.9 rebounds with 1.57 blocks in 24 minutes per playoff game.

His defensive presence in particular was key in the postseason.

“It was remarkable,” said fellow seven-footer Pau Gasol. “He gave his best. He sacrificed himself in order to help the team and have a better chance to win the championship, and it worked.”

Bynum plans to undergo a minor operation on his knee on July 18, which is expected to allow him considerably more time to work on his game and body than he had in previous offseasons due to alternate injuries. He explained that he will stay in Los Angeles for much of the offseason as he prepares for the next NBA campaign, though he’s also scheduled to work out with Lakers Athletic Performance Coordinator Alex McKechnie on his core strength, which he said will help improve his base and hopefully allow him to better absorb contact.

Pair that physical growth with the clear mental leap Bynum took while garnering his second straight title at the age of 22, and 2010-11’s looking pretty positive for the young center.

An Abundance of Rings, & More Kobe
Check out the team’s impressive list of championship rings garnered:

  • Phil Jackson: 13 (two as a player)
  • Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher: 5
  • Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, Luke Walton, Jordan Farmar, Shannon Brown, Adam Morrison, Josh Powell, DJ Mbenga, Sasha Vujacic: 2
  • Ron Artest: 1

As far as individual postseason honors go, Bryant became just the ninth player in NBA history to win multiple Finals MVP awards, joining the list of lists alongside the following stars: Michael Jordan (6); Shaquille O’Neal (3); Magic Johnson (3); Tim Duncan (3); Hakeem Olajuwon (2); Larry Bird (2); Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (2); and Willis Reed (2).

Bryant also became the first player in league history to score 600+ points in three consecutive postseasons. The only other player to amass at least 600 points in three different playoff runs? Yup, Michael Jordan (1992, 1993 and 1998). Bryant also scored at least 30 points in 11-of-12 playoff games prior to Game 2 of the NBA Finals; the last player to do that was also MJ back in 1989.

Jordan (5,987) is one of only three players with more career playoff points than Bryant (5,052), joined by Kareem (5,762) and Shaq (5,248).

Home Cooking
How good have the Lakers been at home in the playoffs since moving into STAPLES Center prior to the 1999-2000 season?

Feel free to fill in your own positive adjective to describe a team that’s won 84 percent of its home games in the postseason (74-14).

Furthermore, since the start of the 2008 NBA Playoffs, L.A. went 31-4 at home, scoring more than 100 points in 51-of-88 chances and holding their opponent under 100 in all but 26 games. The Lakers had won 12 straight home playoff games dating back to the 2009 Western Conference Finals before losing Game 2 of to 2010 NBA Finals at home, but won the two biggest games in years in Games 6 and 7 thanks in no small part (as Phil Jackson stated) to a terrific home crowd.

Staples