Sports Beat, 5-30-08

We're back from a long trip to China that included all kinds of fun. Now it's time for some regular posting:

--Congratulations to the Lakers for reaching the NBA Finals! The team's first trip there since 2004 represents about the quickest rebuilding period in NBA history. There were some who left the organization for dead after they traded Shaquille O'Neal, and there were plenty of others who kept them dead before this season started.

Even Mitch Kupchak admitted that he didn't think it would all come together so quickly, especially since it seemed like Kobe Bryant was on his way out the door back in October. But the Lakers had shown flashes of success in the previous two seasons, and with a healthy Bryant, a healthy Lamar Odom, the stellar early play of Andrew Bynum, and the trade for Pau Gasol after Bynum got injured, the purple and gold were able to realize their potential to the fullest.

To date, the Lakers have played the best basketball of any team in the postseason. I was very surprised with the ease that they defeated San Antonio, especially since Greg Popovich had supposedly been resting his team all season for the playoffs. It's true that Manu Ginobili wasn't 100-percent, but the Spurs are the defending champions and have plenty of experience, and I think just about everyone expected them to put up a tougher fight. Now, it seems as though the Spurs dynasty is over, and they'll go down as one of the few great NBA teams that failed to repeat as champions.

Mitch Kupchak has received plenty of praise for building this Laker team, but I think two other people deserve credit. First off, for the 14th time in Jerry Buss' 29 years of ownership, the Lakers are in the finals. Buss has built the sport's premier franchise, and he held steadfastly to his vision over the past few years. The Lakers are in the finals because of it. Also, if Phil Jackson isn't the greatest coach in NBA history, then I don't know who is. Jackson hasn't been out-coached once in the playoffs, and his system and general team management over the course of this season have proven to be perfect for this group. A win in the finals would give Jackson his 10th NBA title, and he would pass the legendary Red Auerbach.

At the time of this writing, the Celtics and Pistons are locked in a close Game 6 contest. I don't care which team poses a better a matchup for the Lakers... I want the Celtics to win. Lakers-Celtics is the flagship rivalry in the NBA, and the first final between these two teams since 1987 would truly be special.

Now that we're back from China, I'll have full analysis of the NBA Finals, once the Lakers have an opponent, before and after every game.

--I didn't think I overestimated the Dodgers talent and potential before the season started, but they're sure making me look bad. Baseball's most inconsistent team has taken turns struggling at the plate and on the mound. At the time of this writing, they were ahead of the Mets 9-5 at Shea Stadium after Clayton Kershaw struggled in his second start. Kershaw is being hailed by some as the savior of this Dodger team. It's obvious that he was too talented to keep in the minor leagues for much longer. But Joe Torre and Ned Colletti need to be very careful with Kershaw in terms of managing expectations and performance. Kershaw is the youngest Dodger pitcher to start a game since Edwin Jackson beat Randy Johnson on his 20th birthday. The talented Jackson had plenty of difficulties thereafter, although he's off to a promising start to the 2008 season with my first-place Tampa Bay Rays. Every pitcher is different though and if Kershaw realizes his talent, then he will be one of the best in the game.

--Last November, we bemoaned KSPN 710's decision to let John Ireland go, and questioned their new lineup. Well, six months later, after watching their ratings drop 50-percent across all shows, it appears that KSPN got the message.

Tom Hoffarth of the LA Daily News reports that the station has re-hired John Ireland, and will once again pair him with Steve Mason. Give credit to KSPN for recognizing that they made a mistake and for making the decision to reunite Mason & Ireland for a third time. The chemistry between those two is some of the best in sports talk radio, and Los Angeles is better when they're together.

Mason and Ireland will now be on the air from 1 PM to 4 PM and go up against 570's Loose Cannons, who have an excellent radio show themselves. Steve Hartman has established himself as the dean of LA sports talk hosts, and it's always fun to listen to the Vic the Brick. As TJ Simers writes today, the city is full of Vic the Bricks in light of the Lakers success.

May 30, 2008 6:25 PM • Native Intelligence • Email the editor

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