Drive to the Finals Expert Pick: 4/26/07
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By Jeff Dengate

I don't know how many different ways I can say this, but Thursday's expert pick is a no-brainer, child's play and as easy as pie.

¿No comprende?

Let me give it to you in Spanish: Tan fácil como 1-2-3.

Don’t speak Spanish? Very well then, how about Italian? È un gioco da ragazzi.

French? Les doigts dans le nez.

"Wait," you say after translating that last one and discovering it means, 'the fingers in the nose,' or more appropriately, 'as easy as sticking your fingers in your nose,'" are we still talking basketball here?

Sure are, and it's the Lakers' players not-named-Kobe who could stand around all night picking their noses, watching him hoist shot after acrobatic-shot.

¿Tan fácil como 1-2-3? That’s right, Kobe's going to make this look as easy as 1-2-3, all the way to 50 points — or more. With the Lakers down 2-0 in their first round series with the Suns, I, for one, fully expect Bryant to put the team on his back in its return to STAPLES, hoping to avoid the insurmountable 3-0 hole.

Even that may not be enough for the Lakers because, well, Phoenix is just on a different level than L.A. Well, that and the fact they might have a little bit of a chemistry problem, if you're to read into the comments made by Lamar Odom after the Game 2 loss.

"I don't know that we're as close as a team right now," Odom was quoted by the L.A. Daily News, "as far as camaraderie and things like that. That's the only way you lose games like this, when you're not that close. Look at the score. Look at how we lost. Something has to change. Quick."

That"s bad news for Lakers fans, but oh so wonderful news for those hoping to score a cool 25 grand toward a "new" car.

So, what's going to change, quick? Well, how about the number of touches guys like Kwame Brown and Shammond Williams are going to get tonight. In fact, gentlemen, I recommend you skip the layup lines and pregame warm-ups to work on your passing skills; simply find a way, any way, to get the ball to No. 24.

After all, it's not like the Lakers haven’t figured out this is the cure for all that ails them. Remember that stretch in mid-March – the one that immediately followed seven straight losses to open the month? Kobe then went bonkers, scoring 50 or better in four straight games — all wins — and 43 or more in six of seven contests.

This could be another one of those nights. And it could be the best PRA effort posted by any single player in these playoffs.

Think it over for a second: When do you think Kobe is going to feel the pressure and try to take over in the hopes of giving his team a shot — to avoid going down 3-0 or once their backs are against the wall staring down elimination? I'm willing to believe you're thinking like me. Tonight's the night.

Who else are you going to take? If you're like us, you used Dwight Howard right out of the gates, knowing the Magic was one and done. You also want to keep your Pistons around for the later rounds, since we're expecting them to make a deep run in the East — if not to the Finals — again this year. That leaves you with players from Houston or Utah. Quite frankly, I'm thinking Utah wins a game or two to extend this series, giving you more time to select Mehmet Okur or Deron Williams.

Tonight, however, if you want to avoid falling any further behind the leaders, you better have Kobe Bryant as your selection. Everybody else will.

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Kobe Bryant, LAL

When: Thursday, April 26 at 10:30 p.m. ET
Opponent: vs. Phoenix
Pts: 31.6 Reb: 5.7 Ast: 5.4
Average PRA: 42.7

Yesterday's Pick: Antawn Jamison, WAS
Expert Pick Playoffs Total: 229
Expert Pick Archive
1. Grant Hill, ORL vs. DET (20.1 PRA)
2. Mehmet Okur, UTA vs. HOU (21.9 PRA)
3. Lamar Odom, LAL vs. PHX (30.5 PRA)
If you've already selected Kobe, tab Grant Hill tonight because Orlando's second option could be gone by Saturday. I'd wait on Okur, as I believe the Jazz will win a game or two, at least, in this first round.
With his team down 2-0, Kobe Bryant is likely to come out firing in Game 3.
(Barry Gossage/Getty Images/NBAE)