NBA Playoff Roundtable (cont.)
4. Both of last year's finalists, Boston and the Lakers, bowed out in the second round. Which veteran team has a better chance of keeping open its championship window?
THOMSEN: Apart from Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher, the key Lakers players have less mileage than Boston's three future Hall of Famers. Failure and a shortened (by their standards) postseason may provide the inspiration the Lakers couldn't find this season while chasing a fourth straight Finals appearance. I think they have the legs to make another run at it, but I don't know if that's true for the Celtics.
AMICK: The Lakers. Whether they follow Magic Johnson's advice and blow up the roster or stand pat, the Lakers have the necessary flexibility to remain contenders. Big men Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom are still considered among the best at their respective positions, meaning they could be dealt for serious talent or simply used to compete. Ron Artest's value has certainly decreased, but he remains one of the league's best perimeter defenders and a capable part of the core. Bryant is the untouchable one, and there is -- as exiting Lakers coach Phil Jackson said on Wednesday -- a serious need for more speed (see Fisher at the point).
MANNIX: For all of Magic's bluster, the Lakers aren't in a bad spot. Bryant and Gasol are still in their prime and Bynum is only going to keep getting better. Yes, they need younger, quicker guards, and they might push to trade Artest. But this is a team that needs to be retooled, not revamped. Boston won't get an overhaul, either, but another year won't help Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce or Ray Allen. And the loss of Kendrick Perkins, which I think really hurt the Celtics in the Miami series, is going to continue to haunt them.
JENKINS: The Lakers, mainly because they are in the Western Conference, and the Heat are not. The emergence of 23-year-old Bynum solidifies the Lakers' frontcourt for the foreseeable future -- or gives them a valuable trade chip to dangle this summer.
5. Russell Westbrook's decision-making and shot selection have been hot topics during the playoffs. With his emergence as a shoot-first point guard, do you foresee issues in the long term between Westbrook and two-time scoring champion Kevin Durant?
THOMSEN: This is just the beginning for both of them. One month ago, they'd never won a playoff series. They're both still finding their way and a few years from now they'll both be doing things that are beyond them right now. Based on the huge improvement Westbrook has shown already, how can anyone assume he won't learn and grow based on his successes and failures during these educational playoffs? If he's able to reach the conference finals, then it will have been a terrific year for him.
AMICK: I foresee quite the challenge for coach Scott Brooks, who can't afford to allow this perception that Durant is being marginalized to continue. Durant is a once-in-a-generation type scorer, but it seems Westbrook is the only one around who doesn't notice when these painfully long stretches unfold without the ball heading his way. The pursuit of balance should be shared, with the affable Durant needing to speak up when he knows the offense is heading south and Brooks sending the message to Westbrook that the ball movement -- no matter which direction it goes -- can't be so atrocious. As for a prediction, I say they get this kink worked out sooner rather than later. It's the Thunder, after all, and that's what recent history tells us happens when it comes to them.
MANNIX: Brooks has done his best to defuse this talk. But it's a valid question. Westbrook is a spectacular player, but his scorer's mentality just isn't meshing with Durant right now. It's way, way, way too soon to be talking about unloading a 22-year-old point guard who made a Derrick Rose-like leap in his second year. But I've heard talk of Westbrook/Durant being like Stephon Marbury and Garnett, two really talented players who just couldn't figure it out.
JENKINS: Yes. Durant is a true leader and self-effacing star who will do whatever is necessary to help the Thunder win a championship. We can't say the same yet about Westbrook.
6. Are the Mavericks helped or hurt by their long layoff awaiting their opponent in the Western Conference finals?
THOMSEN: Helped. Jason Kidd won't be hurt by this at all, and neither will Nowitzki nor Terry. I am certain their practices have been focused and productive because all of their key players view this as a championship opportunity they may never see again.
AMICK: The only way it hurts is from a momentum standpoint, especially coming off the team-wide heat check otherwise known as Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals. But it helps in the end because of age, as the Mavericks are the oldest team in the league when it comes to their rotation players and the break means extra time to rest all the aches and pains. What's more, coach Rick Carlisle and highly respected lead assistant Dwane Casey are among the game's best and the added preparation time will be put to good use.
MANNIX: Kidd is 38. Terry is 33. Nowitzki is 32. I think these guys will take all the rest they can get. A young team with this much time on its hands might worry you, but Dallas' experienced roster (Terry and Nowitzki have been to the Finals, Kidd has been to two) won't let it skip a beat. They will be ready to go in Game 1.
JENKINS: A young team like Oklahoma City might not want this long a layoff, but the Mavericks are a veteran group with a 38-year-old point guard. They can use the rest.
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