We're looking at every NBA Playoff series through the eyes of both Free Darko. Here's Free Darko's look at the Los Angeles Lakers-Utah Jazz series. Your author is Bethlehem Shoals.
What's been going on with the Jazz and Lakers, respectively? It took Utah six games to knock off Houston, a streaky, rag-tag, injury-ridden team that everyone kind of wanted to play in round one. They even dropped one at home, where they're supposed to not lose, ever. The Lakers, they blew through Denver — the eighth seed no one wanted to play — like it wasn't worth noticing. Were the Nuggets remotely normal, they'd be melting down like the Mavs right about now.
While I want to be nice, and knowledgeable, and prove that I've watched Utah play a bunch, I chuckle. However, I do see two ways the Jazz could make a move in this series. Granted, these are unlikely, but they might be Utah's best shot.
Deron Williams and his unquenchable envy: Something the networks never touch, since it's creepy and vaguely psychotic, is Deron's CP3 complex. Recap: Williams was taken earlier in the '05 draft, even though he wasn't a real point guard at Illinois; Paul is shorter; Paul is far and away the point guard position's reigning genius. No disrespect to Williams, who should be an All-Star for the next five years, but sturdy, willful, and bullish aren't the same thing as skywriting with vodka and hand grenades.
Williams, however, has a major chip on his shoulder over all the love Paul gets. How do I know this? He's the only man in the league who can guard Paul; something darker than death and eternal suffering drives him in their games against New Orleans. And even if Paul is demonstrably better, there's still a way in which Williams, on the verge of becoming the consensus second-best point guard in the league, gets lost in the shuffle.
Right now, Paul's going up against the Spurs, the team who, while not favored, are staunch opponents. If the Hornets fare well, and Paul puts on a show, his myth will flare up like never before. And you know who'll be reading all the columns, up late with candles burning and a flask of firewater? Williams, that's who. He can't let the gulf between them get any wider. So that means that, as Paul excels, Williams will be doubly determined to assert himself. Oh, and don't forget, he's playing for a chance to meet the Hornets in the Conference Finals. Imagine what a point he could make there. You can't underestimate how much motivation this could provide D-Will.
Derek Fisher, traitor Fisher has been great for the Lakers. He's a poster child for calming veteran presence, on all sorts of levels. Fisher also is tight with Kobe, keeping him level and making him open up more around the rest of the team. In short, he's often the much-needed link between the MVP and reality. Oh, and he's a saint who likes taking care of his ailing young daughter.
That's not how the Jazz fans see it. They never really bought the whole "the hospitals are better in L.A., let me out of my contract" spiel. There are, after all, medical facilities in Salt Lake, even if they don't give you intravenous Pepsi when you're feeling blue. But it's not the Dark Ages out there, and really, we all know that Fisher just wanted to get back to Los Angeles . . . where he knew Kobe would come to terms with management, Andrew Bynum would come alive, and Pau Gasol would come to town for peanuts. It's all so clear to me, which is why I totally sympathize with the Energy Solutions crowds booing Fisher.
Who knows, maybe the team will get behind this grudge, too? Maybe some private dick can dredge up this (hypothetical) email:
DATE: 2006-07 Playoffs
SUBJECT: City of Angels
Hey man, we're getting absolutely shelled by the Spurs. This is bullshit and really boring. And like we talked about, my little girl is sick, and losing doesn't help my mood. I need to get back to you and Phil, where we can get back to business and do what's right by us all. Coach can pass that Jew leprechaun, like he always talks about. You can get that post-Shaq ring you need. Me, I can have some fun again.
I've been playing it just right, acting like every time I step on the court, it's like an act of charity for the city of Utah. I mean, it is, because Sloan is a dick, and all anyone wants to talk about is Deron and the Boozer as Stockton/Malone redux. Just like Prince was the Second Coming of Buck Owens, ya heard? Anyway, I've got this whole solemn, tormented thing going, and I'm pretty sure I'll be back there soon.
Then, we can just wait for the rings to pile up. I'm the missing piece. That and I can see the future—trust me, this team is about to have some good things come its way.
I know, right? Total bulletin board material. Find that, or fabricate that, and this already physical team will get as mean as Sloan's rotten innards.
Otherwise, the Lakers could get another sweep.