Mavericks forward Shawn Marion tries to keep control of the ball as Lakers… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)
I believe the Lakers will beat the Mavs in seven games.
Maybe six, and I hope I'm wrong.
For the first time in four years, I have the chance of making it to Lake Tahoe to play golf the first week of June as long as the Lakers continue to take a dive.
But unfortunately, I don't believe Phil Jackson has forgotten how to coach or, as a number of folks are now suggesting, has retired already.
I don't think Kobe Bryant is the same superstar everyone in Los Angeles has come to expect on a nightly basis, but as basketball players go, he's still not bad.
And if he has a chance to ruin my vacation, I know him well enough to know he would love it.
I believe for one game the Lakers will be all right, if not better off, without Ron Artest. Too often he ends up playing his best defense against the Lakers' very own offense, stopping it like no one else can.
I'm a little surprised Steve Blake hasn't been suspended as well for throwing bricks around Staples Center, though no one has been hurt so far.
I know Jackson continues to defend Pau Gasol because he really likes him. Anyone defending Gasol sounds funny, as if it's necessary the way he's shooting the ball.
Phil likes Gasol because he's a big man like himself, cerebral like Phil and he's not Kobe Bryant. Gasol listens to what Phil has to say.
But Gasol is not a physical player, the same stick figure that got pushed around in Boston three years ago.
And now he's letting it get to him, the frustration showing in glimpses of forced toughness, constant bellyaching and looks to the bench for parental-like support as he retreats down the floor.
I don't know if that will change, but for the last two years basketball analysts have been referring to Gasol as the most skilled big man in the game. Some teams have to hope their players play over their heads in a situation like this, but all Gasol has to do is show up.
As a positive aside, he should feel right at home in Dallas with everyone booing him.
I hear what Andrew Bynum has to say; young people are supposed to pop off and sound as if they know exactly what is going on. Maybe even panic, or lash out in frustration when they suspect the finger might be pointed at them for things gone badly.
Bynum is chirping about the basketball world as if it revolves only around him and his own frustrations. But his outspoken immaturity is being mistaken by some as insight. People now do believe the Lakers have a trust problem because the kid on the roster says so.
It's probably embarrassing when Tyson Chandler takes a lob pass and slams it down with everyone in the arena looking at Bynum and wondering, "Where were you?"
Bynum knows he's supposed to get help, and now he wants you to know he was supposed to get help.
That's like a columnist blaming his editor for mistakes made in a column … and it really is the editor's fault, now that I think about it.
Maybe a better example is a cornerback blaming his defensive line for not sacking the quarterback before he's beaten deep. Maybe it's true, but part of being a professional is sounding like one. Bynum is still a work in progress.
It's not Jackson's nature to intervene, letting Shaq and Kobe work out their problems, and how did that go? Sorry, I had flashbacks to Detroit and the playoffs a few years back.…
Jackson will probably roast Bynum with a couple sarcastic barbs while working on a plan to stop Dirk Nowitzki.
That's what he does. Allen Iverson goes off in Game 1, the 76ers win, but never again. Chris Paul runs around making the Lakers look vulnerable, but then disappears.
Now he has to stop Nowitzki. What a wonderful way for the best coach in the NBA to go out, handed one of the greatest challenges in league history.
Given his resume, why should folks think it's too much to ask?
The fans will dwell on the booing, and there's nothing wrong with the paying customers letting the performers know they're a disappointment. And the media will dwell on Bynum's remarks, but if Bryant hits a three-pointer at the end of Game 1, everyone is happy and everyone trusts the Lakers will win in the end.
Down 0-2, the Lakers have the Mavs right where they want them — in a position to prove Dallas is short on championship heart. I expect we will see that.
The Lakers are still the better team and ordinarily get better in a playoff series with Jackson in command. I cannot imagine the Lakers rolling over and playing dead in Jackson's final days as a coach.
So I expect the Lakers to win a game in Dallas. Maybe two, and there goes Lake Tahoe.
If they win one, they return to L.A., and win Game 5.
Then the pressure shifts to Dallas with everyone wanting to know if the Mavericks have what it takes to put away the Lakers. Or else.
If this series goes seven games, that feeling of really having blown it will most likely be too much for the Mavericks.
So until the Mavericks prove they can close out the two-time defending champs, I believe that makes the Lakers the favorites to advance.