Just two weeks ago the Los Angeles Lakers were on the brink of being defeated by the young, feisty, and hungry Sacramento Kings. Many critics, fans, and basketball experts speculated on the Lakers championship runs coming to an end. Despite being put through war on the hard woods every night, playing through injuries (Shaquille Oneal), and suffering with food poisoning (Kobe Bryant) the Lakers' two headed monster keeps on eating their opponents' lunch.
Many people feel like they know how to beat the Lakers in one game. But the unsolved mystery remains; Just how can a team beat LA in a series? And in the 2002 NBA finals the New Jersey Nets are trying to answer this question. For the Nets this puzzle better be put together quickly; if not the Lakers will make history in the form of sweeping the Nets and securing their so-called 3-peat. [written before Wednesday night's final
The Memphis Grizzlies beat LA back on December 21st, 2001. in the Pyramid. In that contest the Grizzlies won by a final score of 114 to 108. Jason Williams had a strong game , collecting 26 points. and Pau Gasol pulled down 7 rebounds. Willie Solomon, Grizzlies' guard, shares his take on how New Jersey may be able to beat LA. "Try to get an early start by knocking down shots and getting into a rhythm," said Solomon. Teams always have one monumental task in trying to stop the Lakers from collecting basketball victories. The challenge of defending and trying to shoot through O'Neal remains as a tough task. The Grizzlies were successful on at least one occasion last season, and Sacramento showed it could be done. 'You know actually just going at Shaq," said Solomon. Many experts believe this is the best way to play LA and have a chance at neutralizing O'Neal.
Teams have also proved successful whenever they ran against LA and kept the tempo fast with transition buckets. Solomon reflects on how the Grizzlies were able to get out and run the floor with LA and outscore them. "Just keep pushing the ball and playing great defense,"said Solomon. "Pressing the ball trying to make them (Lakers) commit turnovers, because then they can't get shots up."
Many basketball fans are fascinated to see the New Jersey Nets competing in the NBA Finals. The Nets have never been to the NBA finals, nor won an Eastern Conference title. The last time the Nets were in the championship Julius Dr. J Erving led them. They were the ABA's New York Nets, and the year was 1976. "You'll never think of New Jersey in the finals, but they had a great season this year and hopefully they can win," said Solomon. "But if they don't win they still had a great season, and you know they're in the finals playing LA."
An ironic aspect of this series is the fact that Byron Scott, Nets' Head Coach was a member of three Los Angeles Lakers championship teams in the 1980's. "Byron Scott is a great coach," said Solomon. "A former player can help you win in the finals. He's (Scott) been there to the place your trying to get too."
So does New Jersey really have a chance or are the Lakers a team on a destiny?
A good thing for Memphians to realize is the fact that Jerry West, Memphis Grizzlies President of Basketball Operations spent 14 years in Los Angeles as a player and 19 years with the Lakers as a front office executive. As you may know , West is credited with playing for several Lakers championship teams in the finals. He also played a key role in building the Lakers team of the 1980s, drafting Magic Johnson, acquiring Shaquille O'Neal from the Orlando Magic, and trading former Lakers Center Vlade Divac to the Charlotte Hornets for the draft rights to Kobe Bryant. West was also a key decision-maker in the hiring of former Chicago Bulls Championship coach and current Lakers head coach Phil Jackson. Therefore Jerry West arguably helped this years Lakers team in their quest for the so-called 3-peat. Good news for Memphians is the fact that West is here In the Bluff City working toward building the Grizzlies with this years 4th pick in the NBA lottery.
"I was one of the people that helped assemble that team," said Jerry West. "I'm real proud of the players that have been there. More importantly my association with the Lakers will never let me be anything but a Lakers fan," West continues. " But certainly this (Memphis) is where my interest lies today.
In looking at great NBA teams throughout history one trait is common: They always seemed to find a way to win basketball games. Which ultimately garnered championships and solidified their place in time as the team to beat in their era.n