It was a week for superpower showdowns in the NBA and at the end the beneficiary was the Los Angeles Lakers, a team whose situation looked a little bit precarious at this time last week. L.A. swept their four games and made emphatic statements with victories over the Celtics and the Cavaliers, both away from the Staples Center. Boston and Orlando lost twice- the Magic shorn of the services of Jameer Nelson in the process- and the Cavaliers saw Mo Williams deprived of an All-Star appearance, LeBron deprived of a triple double, and the team deprived of a perfect record in the Q with a nationally televised thrashing by Los Angeles. Advantage: Lake Show.
Thanks to their big week, the Lakers now hold the lead in the race for home-court advantage through the playoffs. They also secured the head-to-head tiebreaker on Boston and Cleveland. Seeing as they're an NBA-best 18-5 on the road and have already beaten both teams at their place, home-court might be a luxury for Los Angeles, the way things look now.
Of course, things could look quite a bit different in ten days. Let's hope one of those things is the Cavalier frontcourt rotation.
1.) Los Angeles: 41-9: --
Streak: Won 6
Last 10: 9-1
Last Week: 4-0
Last Game: Sunday, Feb. 8: Won @ Cleveland 101-91
Tuesday, Feb. 10: Oklahoma City
Wednesday, Feb. 11: @ Utah
The Lakers had maybe their best week of the season, starting it with Kobe's 61-point Garden party and climaxing it with road wins over the Celtics and Cavaliers. Not only did they keep rolling in the wake of Andrew Bynum's injury, they did it thanks mainly to their defense and Lamar Odom, two longstanding question marks. Odom had huge games in Boston and in Cleveland, and the Lakers defense held the Cavaliers to 30 second-half points in turning a ten-point halftime deficit into a ten-point victory. Right now, Los Angeles is clearly the best team in basketball. If they're playing defense and Lamar shows up, you can forget it.
2.) Boston: 42-11: 0.5
Streak: Lost 1
Last 10: 8-2
Last Week: 2-2
Last Game: Sunday, Feb. 8: Lost to San Antonio 103-99
Wednesday, Feb. 11: @ New Orleans
Thursday, Feb. 12: @ Dallas
The Celtics didn't get any coffee last week, failing to close at home in tight losses to the best teams the West has to offer. The loss to San Antonio was especially ugly, with Boston giving up 15 points in the final minute to turn a three-point lead into a six-point defeat. The C's begin a six-game road swing on Wednesday, and will need to find the offensive consistency they lacked against the Lakers and Spurs.
3.) Cleveland: 39-10: 1.5
Last 10: 8-2
Last Week: 2-1
Last Game: Feb. 8: Lost to L.A. Lakers 101-91
Tuesday, Feb. 10: @ Indiana
Wednesday, Feb. 11: Phoenix
The Cavaliers ended an awkward week on a sour note with the streak-breaking loss to Los Angeles. They gained ground on the Celtics and the Magic, both losers twice, but they've lost the tiebreaker to the Lakers, and now have to live with the fact that when it came to cases, they were twice dominated by a L.A. team that looks predestined for the Finals. The Cavaliers were slaughtered in the painted area in both meetings, the second time at full strength by a Bynum-less Lakers frontcourt.
By the way, Cavaliers need to stop crying so much. They got beat down the floor a few times by the Lakers because they were too busy gyrating their arms and complaining about fouls, or the lack thereof. They lost their composure in the second half the same way they lost it against Orlando. Specifically, LeBron needs to tighten up. He sets the tone. He bitches and moans and everyone else follows suit. I know; he doesn't get calls. He's like Shaq in that he'll never get all of the calls he deserves. But he can't be a crybaby. That gets him, and his team, absolutely nowhere.
Talk of disrespect and the league out to get us is a distraction. And this team isn't good enough to get away with being distracted. Sunday's manhandling at the Q showed that much. There is a long way to go. Nobody is handing anybody anything. If the Cavaliers want respect, they'll get it not by talking but by playing. So play.
4.) Orlando: 38-12: 3
Streak: Won 1
Last 10: 6-4
Last Game: Sunday, Feb. 8: Beat New Jersey 101-84
Wednesday, Feb. 11: Denver
So much for that comfy seat. The Magic had a rough week, losing Jameer Nelson for at least two months with a shoulder injury and losing two games in the fallout. Orlando has a short week with just one game on the slate before the All-Star Break, and needs the rest. They're in control of the Southeast Division, but all of a sudden their staying power in the race for home-court looks a bit dicey.
Power Ranking for the Week of Feb. 9
Player of the Week- Lamar Odom, L.A. Lakers: The words "Lamar Odom" and "step up" have rarely shared space in a sentence, but that's what the mercurial forward did last week for his shorthanded team. Odom went for 20 points and six rebounds in L.A.'s overtime win in Boston and followed up with a monster 28-point, 17-rebound effort in Cleveland, including 15 and 10 in the third quarter alone. With Odom playing like a man possessed, the Lake Show didn't need Kobe's A-Game to knock off the C's and Cavaliers on the road.
Face-Whore of the Week- New York: My whack predict-o that the Knicks would steal a game last week was exposed as laughable tripe as New York suffered back-to-back embarrassments at the hands of Kobe and LeBron and a Garden-variety loss to Boston. Were I a Knick fan, I'd consider last week a low point for the franchise. It was a smirch on the legacy of DeBusschere, Mason, and Oakley to be used as the clay pigeon in a carnival game between superstars. Not that I'm weeping crocodile tears for them, mind you.
Game to Watch- Cleveland @ Indiana: The Pacers have already beaten L.A., Boston and Orlando at Conseco Fieldhouse. The last time the teams played in December, LeBron scored just 11 but smothered Danny Granger, holding him to four points on 2-of-7 shooting in a 97-73 Cavaliers romp. In the first meeting, early in November, Granger blew up for 33 and the Cavaliers had to rally late to win 111-107. Both games were in the Q. The Danny Granger that shows up on Tuesday night will probably look more like the November version.