Finals commentary, prior to Game 5

Jason Whitlock, Kansas City Star: I’ve never been much of a Phil Jackson fan. Give me Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant and I’ll fill a trophy case, too. Jackson, the coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, doesn’t belong beside Red Auerbach, the most accomplished coach in NBA history. The Zen Master, as Jackson is referred, is a wonderful manager of egos and a suspect strategist, vulnerable to exposure by the game’s top tacticians such as Larry Brown and Gregg Popovich. That’s what I used to think before the current NBA finals series. I didn’t fully appreciate and/or comprehend Jackson’s brilliance. Orlando’s Stan Van Dumby has placed Jackson in proper perspective for me. So tonight, if Jackson surpasses Auerbach by securing a 10th championship, I will not offer an objection when analysts claim Jackson is Auerbach’s equal. For the first time in his career, Jackson is poised to win the title with an inferior team. I know that statement contradicts the lies you have been fed by the so-called experts who cover the NBA. But the truth is, Van Dumby has more tools in his work belt than Jackson.

Bill Plaschke, LA Times: “I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Bryant said, laughing. The same questioner reminded him that it would soon be a topic. “It won’t be a topic,” Bryant said. “Won’t be an issue.” The questioner asked him to elaborate. “No,” Bryant said. “That’s exactly why it won’t be an issue.” It was my turn. I first accused Bryant of bringing up the subject, and he laughed again. “I didn’t bring it up,” he said. “I deflected.” Then I asked the only question on this subject that I figured he might answer. I asked, could you imagine playing for anyone else besides the Lakers next year? “No,” he said. Bingo. That’s enough for me, and should be enough for the Lakers. Unless Lakers officials somehow botch the negotiations for the new deal Bryant will demand after opting out of his contract — and they won’t, they love Kobe — then Bryant will be around to attempt another three-peat.

Mike Bianchi, Orlando Sentinel: When a hometown writer asks if he is actually guaranteeing a victory, Howard smiles and says: “I believe we’re going back to L.A. , and you should, too. You’re from Orlando.” Honestly, I have serious doubts whether the Magic can come back and win this series, but there’s no doubting this: Whether they do or don’t, this team’s Magical mystery tour through the playoffs has been a blast and boon for Orlando. During the last couple of years as we considered whether or not to build a new arena for the team, there has been much disagreement and debate about the Magic’s value to the community. In the last few weeks, those doubts have been washed away in a wave of incredible excitement and international exposure.

Gregg Doyel, CBS Sports: Kobe’s team trumps LeBron’s team, but I knew that a month ago. Even wrote it. Because it’s not exactly rocket science. Kobe has the vastly superior supporting cast. Much as I’m turned off by Pau Gasol — I don’t like his body, I don’t like his body language, I don’t like his beard — Gasol is head and shoulders (if he had shoulders) above any of LeBron’s teammates in Cleveland. Tell me. Who is LeBron’s version of Gasol? Hell, who is LeBron’s version of Horry? These NBA Finals have shown just how much of a team game basketball is. The Lakers won Game 4 because Derek Fisher hit the two biggest shots of the night. Fisher is a tough, inspirational player, but in basketball terms he’s one-dimensional. He can shoot. That’s all he can do. And that makes him a role player, probably the sixth-best player on the Lakers. The Cavaliers have something like a Derek Fisher, too. His name is Mo Williams. Only he’s the Cavs’ second-best player. And he’s not as clutch as Derek Fisher.

Jason Whitlock, FOX Sports: Jameer Nelson had no business on the court. None. Van Gundy’s decision to bench Rafer Alston throughout the fourth quarter (and overtime) in favor of Nelson is the dumbest big-game coaching decision I’ve ever seen. Don’t be fooled by the ridiculous commentary offered by Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy during ABC’s broadcast. Nelson made two elementary passes to Howard in the fourth quarter and Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy pretended that Magic Johnson, Bob Cousy, Isiah Thomas and John Stockton had all suited up for Orlando in the fourth quarter. Jackson had the audacity to coo that Nelson was “carrying” the Magic. Nelson carried the Magic straight to hell. He missed defensive rotations. He orchestrated back-to-back horrible offensive possessions at the end of the third quarter. He failed to locate and deliver the ball to Dwight Howard in the low post. And with five seconds left in regulation, he stood foolishly underneath the three-point line and let Derek Fisher walk into a game-tying three. Stan Van Gundy needs his ass beat.

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