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LAKERS FLEX MUSCLES, ADVANCE TO 2ND ROUND


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PhilBoxing.com Special NBA 2011 Playoffs Coverage

LOS ANGELES, They look old and vulnerable, unable to flick that playoffs switch with the same ease they did in the two previous seasons that have netted them the Larry O'Brien trophy.

Their coach, Phil Jackson, who has more rings than he has fingers (11), is on the last year of his contract and is ready to retire. Too many of those dreaded playoffs wars seemed to have extinguished the championship fire in the Zen Master's belly.

Their center, 7-foot Andrew Bynum, is a tower of power when healthy, averaging 15.2 points and 10.3 rebounds per game. But the 285-pound behemoth missed 28 regular season games and is playing on shaky knees. Every time he falls on the hardwood, his teammates cringe.

And then there's Kobe Bryant, once seen grimacing in pain early in this postseason, limping around Staples Center, and vehemently refusing an MRI on his fragile, twisted ankle.

All of the above sent this great city and its fans into a state of mass depression. All wondering what is going on with their mighty Los Angeles Lakers.

Well, it now seems crystal clear that those fears were misplaced.

Showing the form that catapulted them to three consecutive NBA Finals appearances since 2008, the Lakers marched to New Orleans Wednesday night and conducted a clinic in hoops precision. The No.2 seed in the Western Conference eliminated the Hornets in six games following a one-sided 98-80 Game 6 beating.

Kobe Bryant, the squad's heart and soul, led the purple-and-gold assault with 24 points on 6-0f-16 shooting. Bryant made two treys and sank all 10 of his free throws, He played just 30 minutes, which bodes well for his aching ankle as the Lakers continue their improbable quest for a 3-peat.

Showing no signs of the injuries that have slowed him early in the season and much in this postseason, Bynum controlled the paint with authority. The 23-year old product of St. Joseph High School in New Jersey powered his way through 18 points and 12 rebounds. He also had two blocks while anchoring a defense that held the Hornets to just 30-of-70 from the field.

Playing on friendly turf, the Hornets kept it close and trailed only by six points at the half, 40-34. But the Lakers increased their lead to 12 after three quarters and when Shannon Brown nailed a pair of free throws at the 7:46 mark of the fourth quarter, the Lakers were beyond reach with an imposing 80-62 margin.

Seven-foot Pau Gasol played his best outing in the series with 16 points and 8 rebounds. And 6-foot-11 Lamar Odom came off the bench to drill 14 points and grab 8 rebounds. In the end, the Lakers size, depth and wealth of playoffs experience proved too much for the relentless Hornets to overcome.

Hornets All-Star Chris Paul had a terrific series, but under constant duress from the Lakers guards, Paul had tired legs left in Game 6, where he finished with just 10 points on 4-of-9 shooting. He also had 11 assists and 5 turnovers. So after a successful regular season of 46 wins and 36 defeats, the Hornets are one and done in these 2011 NBA playoffs.

The Lakers, meanwhile, are far from done. But the champs appear ready for the tougher battles ahead in defense of their NBA crown. Next stop is Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals where the Dallas Mavericks visit the Staples Center Monday night. (Nick Roska)


Click here to view a list of other articles written by Nicholai R. Roska.


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