Friday, April 16, 2010

Jackson and Lakers bully Durant and Thunder

By John McMullen, NBA Editor

Philadelphia, PA - Bullying has been at the forefront of the national news cycle quite a bit recently, thanks to a high-profile case in Massachusetts that resulted in the suicide of a young teenage girl.

The increased media coverage is certainly understandable when something that tragic happens but bullying has been around for hundreds of years, and will continue to fester long after CNN and FOXNews pack up the cameras and head to the next sensational story.

Psychologists have described bullying as an act of repeated aggressive behavior in order to intentionally hurt another person either physically or mentally, often characterized by an individual behaving in a certain way to gain power over another person.

So what does that have to do with the NBA?

Well, the resident bully on the block, the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers, are a little worried about the new kid, Kevin Durant and his Oklahoma City Thunder. So, Lakers coach Phil Jackson was quick to put both Durant and the league's officials on notice once it was clear LA would match up with the Thunder in the Western Conference quarterfinals.

It was classic Jackson, a coach who has spent far more time mastering mind games than the X's and O's.

Phil Jackson was fined $35,000.
"As far as the calls he gets on the floor, I think a lot of the referees are treating him like a superstar," Jackson said of Durant. "He gets to the line easily and often. He has the ability to create fouls. So, that's a big part of scoring, getting to the foul line.

The NBA on Thursday fined Jackson $35,000 for those comments.

Working officials is a tactic as old as the game itself and Jackson, who has been a part of 12 NBA championships as a player and a coach, sees it as just another part of the game. The so-called Zen Master wants to make sure it's his superstar, the veteran Kobe Bryant, who gets the benefit of the whistle and not the cocky young punk that hasn't earned anything, Durant.

Jackson is not the first to question the "treatment" Durant has gotten. Another long-time star, Boston's Kevin Garnett, was fined $25,000 for criticizing the referees during the Celtics' loss to the Thunder last month, when Durant paraded to the charity stripe 15 times and knocked them all down.

Garnett deadpanned that the Celtics were playing "Michael (expletive) Jordan."

Here's the thing. Durant IS a superstar. The 6-foot-9 silky smooth forward is special and finished this season as the youngest scoring champion in NBA history, averaging 30.1 points per game. He also paced the league in free- throw attempts per game at 10.3.

"Ever since KG said something, everybody's been questioning how I get to the line," Durant told the Oklahoman. "If you watch our games, you wouldn't question it."

Jackson isn't really questioning it. In fact the Lakers' coach is likely a bit spooked by Durant's skill and is looking for any edge he can get, whether that's upsetting Durant himself or getting one or two subliminal calls out of officials that might have gone the other way.

It seems to be working. The 21-year-old Durant showed a little bit of the immaturity the Lakers' mentor was trying to exploit when addressing the issue on Wednesday.

"It's taking away from what I do," Durant said. "That's a part of my game, getting to the free-throw line and being aggressive. If you say that I get superstar calls or I get babied by the refs, that's just taking away from how I play. That's disrespectful to me."

Durant should have just kept his mouth shut and punched the bully squarely in the face by dropping 40 points in Game 1. Instead, it's advantage Jackson and the Lakers, who will take down the talented but inexperienced Thunder in seven games.

Now let's take a closer look at the rest of this year's opening round matchups...

EASTERN CONFERENCE

(1) CLEVELAND vs. (8) CHICAGO


The Cavs have more playoff experience, the best player in the game and a more competent coach but they shut it down for a week while Chicago has been playing for its playoff life each and every day down the stretch. I think rustiness might be able to steal the Bulls a game or two, but they will not seriously threaten The King and Cleveland.

Cavs in 5

(2) ORLANDO vs. (7) CHARLOTTE


The talent discrepancy between these two teams is not as great as you would think considering the difference in records, but a number of things are pointing in Orlando's direction. The Bobcats already accomplished their main goal of making the postseason for the first time in franchise history. Meanwhile, the Magic have that deep run from last year to fall back upon, and the most dominant inside player in the game, Dwight Howard. The fact that Larry Brown has likely already made the decision to move on from Charlotte is also tough to overcome.

Magic in 5

(3) ATLANTA vs. (6) MILWAUKEE


If the Bucks had any chance here, it likely went down in flames when much- improved center Andrew Bogut was injured against Phoenix in early April. Atlanta is just too athletic and has too many offensive options for Milwaukee to keep up in a seven-game setting.

HAWKS in 5

(4) BOSTON vs. (5) MIAMI


Dwyane Wade is good enough to win games by himself in the final five minutes if Miami can figure out a way to keep things close. That said, Boston has too much experience and will mind a way to squeeze things out, likely in seven games.

Celtics in 7

WESTERN CONFERENCE

(2) DALLAS vs. (7) SAN ANTONIO


The aging Spurs certainly have the experience to give their in-state rivals fits, but the February trade that brought Caron Butler and Brendan Hayward to Big D really toughened the Mavs up and made them far better suited for postseason play. That said, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili still have enough to get this to a Game 7 where anything can happen, but I think Dirk Nowitzki and his superlative offensive skills are the difference there.

Mavs in 7

(3) PHOENIX vs. (6) PORTLAND


Talk about snake-bit. The loss of All-Star Brandon Roy to a torn meniscus in his right knee likely seals Portland's fate against the high-flying Suns. Already without centers Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla, Blazers coach Nate McMillan did a wonderful job holding things together in the Pacific Northwest this season and is my Coach of the Year, but there is only so much you can do.

Suns in 5

(4) DENVER vs. (5) UTAH


Utah is extremely talented, but something bothers me about a team that lays an egg on the last day of the regular season on their home floor with the division title on the line and the second seed in the conference still in play. That said, I'm picking the Jazz even though I think Denver is the more well-rounded team. George Karl's health issues are just too big of a distraction.

Jazz in 7
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