Lakers find themselves one win from 17th title

0
153

SPORTS DIGEST

By Don Wanlass

Contributing Writer

Twice during the treasured history of the Los Angeles Lakers, the team has gone eight years or more between trips to the NBA Finals.

The first time came at the end of the Showtime Era, when the Lakers missed the finals for eight straight years 1992-1999.

Coach Phil Jackson, with the help of Shaquille O’Neil and Kobe Bryant, got the Lakers to the final in 2000 and they won three consecutive titles.

Then, after winning two more titles in 2009 and 2010, the Lakers went nine years without a trip to the finals, until LeBron James, with help from Anthony Davis led them to the promised land in the Orlando bubble this year

Now, the Lakers find themselves a win away from their 17th overall franchise title, a mark that will tie the Boston Celtics for the most in NBA history. Equaling the Celtics’ record will be even more meaningful for old-time Lakers fans who remember the 1960s when it seemed the Celtics defeated the Lakers every year.

Actually, it only happened seven times in 11 years, but you get the idea. The Celtics dominated the whole league in those days, winning 11 titles in 13 seasons with Bill Russell as their center. They have only won six titles since; the Lakers have won 11, so we know who has been the most dominant team since the 1980s.

The Lakers should put the Miami Heat out of their misery Oct. 9 when they play game 5 in Orlando.

The Heat have fought hard, with Jimmy Butler proving his stature as one of the stars of the league with his performance with injured Goran Dragic and Bam Adebayo missing time with injuries.

Abandejo returned to the lineup in game four Oct. 6 after missing two games with a shoulder injury. Dragic has a foot injury that will probably sideline him the rest of the series.

The Lakers have won all three previous series this year in five games and figure to do the same to the Heat.

James will add to his legacy with his fourth championship by taking his third franchise to the title. Others may have won titles with three teams before but no one has put three franchises on his back and carried them to the title like James has done.

In 19 playoff games so far, James has averaged 26.9 points, 10.5 rebounds and 8.8 assists. He has taken over defensive responsibilities on Butler in the fourth quarter, a strategy that worked in every game except game three, a game in which the Lakers looked disinterested for most of the game and still almost pulled it out at the end.

The Lakers won’t be disinterested Oct. 9 when they can win and get out of the Orlando bubble for good.

The championship will be a victory for the entire franchise, starting from team governor Jeanie Buss and working down to the last man at the end of the bench.

Buss took a big gamble when she fired her brother Jim and general manager Mitch Kupchak after the 2017 season, the fifth year in a row the Lakers missed the playoffs.

It also validates her hiring Rob Pelinka as general manager to work with Magic Johnson that off-season. Johnson lasted as head of basketball operations long enough to lure James to town.

Pelinka was best known for being Kobe Bryant’s agent when the Lakers hired him, but he played basketball at Michigan in college and knows the game inside and out.

He put a team around James that has been strong enough to overcome the coronavirus pandemic, the death of Bryant and the other 29 teams in the league.

Pelinka helped lure Anthony Davis — although James did most of that work — and also hired Frank Vogel, who has been the perfect coach for a team like the Lakers. He stresses defense and then gets out of the way, letting James, Anthony Davis and Rajon Rondo run the offense and keep the rest of the roster in line.

I’m not sure what kind of celebration the league will allow in the bubble, but be certain it will be appreciated by the entire team. James, Rondo, J.R. Smith and JaVale McGee have won titles before.

For the rest, it will be a first-time experience. It’s too bad the city can’t celebrate by throwing them a parade.

THREE DOWN: Ten more wins and the Dodgers will be World Series champions.

The Dodgers swept past the Milwaukee Brewers in the opening round of the playoffs without much effort and toyed with the Padres Oct. 6 in the opener of their second series, winning 5-1.

The Padres lost the ace of their rotation, Mike Clevenger, after the first inning. The Dodgers flailed at a series of relief pitchers for four innings before scoring an unearned run in the fifth inning and rallying for four more in the sixth inning.

Surprisingly, the Dodgers used little ball instead of the home run. They only had four hits in the entire game and they all came in the sixth inning. Padres pitchers helped the Dodgers by walking 10 batters.

It was enough for Walker Buehler and four relief pitchers, including Kenley Jansen as closer, to keep the Padres at bay. The Padres’ offense was more anemic than the Dodgers.

Buehler walked four in his four-inning stint, but only surrendered two hits.

Victor Gonzalez gave up a hit in the seventh inning but the bullpen didn’t walk anybody and Jansen got the final two outs in a non-save situation.

Needing only two more wins to advance to the National league Championship Series, the Dodgers sent Clayton Kershaw to the mound Oct. 7 in game two of the series.

No word who will start game three in the series Oct. 8. It probably won’t be Dustin May, who threw two innings behind Buehler in the opener. Manager Dave Roberts will probably choose between Julio Urias and Tony Gonsolin, with the other coming in to relief the other.

The ballpark in Arlington, Texas where the series is being played in a bubble, is large by modern stadium standards, which could make home runs harder to hit. That happened in game one, and the Dodgers found another way to win.

They figure to do that two more times before Saturday and advance to face the winner of the series between the Atlanta Braves and the Miami Marlins, who are managed by former Dodgers manager Don Mattingly.

That could make for an interesting championship series.

ODDS AND ENDS: The Pac 12 released its football schedule last week with the USC Trojans opening the season against Arizona State at the Coliseum Nov. 7. The starting time was puzzling — 9 a.m. Are college students even up that early.

It probably won’t matter, since no one will be allowed inside the Coliseum to watch, but the starting time might impact players from both teams. UCLA opens on  the road against Colorado.

The conference has set up the schedule so the teams play each team in their division and one team from the opposite division. UCLA drew conference favorite, Oregon; USC drew Washington State, which has a new coach after Mike Leach left to Mississippi State and took his Air Raid offense with him.

The USC-UCLA game will be the next to last game of the season, Dec. 10. The following week the teams will play a team from the other division, based on standings.

A shortened bowl schedule will follow. …

Bob Gibson, one of the top pitchers of the 1960s, died over the weekend. The former St. Louis Cardinals star, pitched the Cardinals to World Series championships in 1964 and 1967, and should have had a third in 1968.

Gibson, Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale of the Dodgers and Juan Marichal of the Giants might have been the four best pitchers in baseball during the 1960s. Those four pitched every four days, threw hard and had a mean streak that kept opposing hitters from getting too comfortable in the batter’s box.

Gibson’s earned run average in 1968 was 1.12, the best ever for a starting pitcher. He yielded only 38 earned runs in more than 300 innings, struck out 268 batters and won 22 games, 13 by shutouts. It’s hard to believe he actually lost nine games that season. …