Ladies and gentlemen, your World Champion Los Angeles Lakers

Yep, the Lakers rolled, 99-86, to eliminate the Magic in Game 5 of the 2009 Finals. It is the franchise’s 15th title and Phil Jackson’s 10th as a head coach.

Kobe got his first ring without Shaq. His legacy as one of the NBA’s all-time greatest players is secure. Even though he is the league’s most polarizing personality, he deserves a ton of credit for the way he led the Lakers this season. He deferred to his teammates time and time again, and they came through when it mattered most. This is no big deal for a lot of players, but Kobe is a different beast.

Unfortunately for the Magic, the competitiveness of these Finals is going to fade as time goes on. The Lakers’ ability to clinch in five games seems dominant on paper and people are going to forget that if not for two plays — Courtney Lee’s missed alley-oop in Game 2 and Jameer Nelson’s failure to contest Derek Fisher’s game-tying three in Game 4 — this series easily could have gone into Game 5 with the Magic leading, 3-1. But by losing tonight the way they did, most people are going to forget how evenly matched these two teams were.

Heading into the offseason, it’s going to be interesting to see what’s ahead for each of these teams. Hedo Turkoglu, Lamar Odom, Trevor Ariza, Marcin Gortat and Shannon Brown are all entering free agency. If Jerry Buss is willing to go deep into luxury tax territory, the Lakers may elect to repeat this year’s success and sign both Ariza and Odom. My guess is that they re-sign Ariza and let Odom go. As for the Magic, they sound like they’re willing to go over the luxury tax threshold to re-sign Turkoglu. Gortat is a valuable player, but since he plays behind Howard, it will be hard to justify matching a significant offer.

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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.

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Finals Game 4 reaction

John Romano, St. Petersburg Times: Oh, technically the NBA Finals are still far from complete. Orlando still has another home game on Sunday night. And if you buy the old coaching mantra of one-game-at-a-time, you can picture a scenario where the Magic still comes away with a title. But realistically, the end is near. You could see it the moment the ball left Derek Fisher’s fingertips in the final minute of overtime on Thursday night. You could see it in the frustration of Mickael Pietrus when he whacked Pau Gasol from behind in the final seconds. You could see it on the scoreboard that betrayed an arena filled with fans after looking so friendly for most of the night. The truth is, Orlando blew its chance to be the champion of the NBA in Game 4 on Thursday night.

T.J. Simers, LA Times: We probably won’t know who has been actually coaching the Lakers this series until Phil’s next book is published. Right now the best we can do is offer congrats to Coach Phil & Coach Kobe and thanks to the Magic for playing as if it has never been coached to win a big game. The guy coaching the Magic was so outclassed against the likes of Coaches Phil & Kobe, he was playing a rusty Jameer Nelson with the game on the line. If the guy’s not coaching a YMCA team next season, he might want to instruct Nelson not to sag on a three-point shooter like Derek Fisher when leading by three. As for the Lakers, it’s very confusing at times who is in charge around here, especially the way Kobe has been playing.

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Ariza, Fisher bail out Kobe

Kobe Bryant went 11 for 31 from the field, and struggled to score down the stretch. Luckily for the Lakers, Derek Fisher continued to shoot well in the series and knocked down two huge threes, one at the end of regulation and one in the extra period to completely change the complexion of the game, and as a result, the series. (Lakers win, 99-91.)

But this one never should have gone to overtime. With a five-point lead and 0:39 to play, Rashard Lewis had a chance to push the lead to seven, but missed the 15-footer. Up three with 0:11 to play, Dwight Howard missed two free throws, either of which would have made it a two possession game. On the ensuing inbounds play, Jameer Nelson ponderously laid off of Derek Fisher who pulled up and hit the game-tying three. I don’t know if Stan Van Gundy had the foul on there, but at the very least Nelson should have been crowding Fisher to force the drive.

The Magic really lost this game at the start of the third quarter. Their 12-point halftime lead was gone within six minutes, and they didn’t even force the Lakers to expend a lot of energy to cut into the lead. Trevor Ariza led the charge with 11 quick points in the first half of the quarter.

Van Gundy will look at the box score and scratch his head. The Magic had 17 turnovers, and most of those were in the first half. Had they took care of the ball, they probably would have pushed the lead to 20. Orlando also missed 13 free throws, eight from Howard, who was just 6 of 14 from the line.

Bryant finished with 32 points, eight assists and seven boards, and had a good all-around game even though he didn’t shoot the ball well. Pau Gasol and Trevor Ariza pitched in with 16 apiece.

Hedo Turkoglu played a great game, posting 23 points, three assists and five boards. He put the Magic in a position to win, but his teammates couldn’t seal the deal. Turkoglu isn’t infallible, however. He did miss three free throws down the stretch. Howard posted 16 points, 21 rebounds and nine blocks, but he turned over the ball seven times. Outside of a tough three to give Orlando the lead in OT, Lewis was a no-show. He went 2 for 10 for six points. Mickael Pietrus once again played great off the bench, scoring 15 points and making life tough for Kobe.

For all intents and purposes, this series is over. The odds of the Magic winning three straight games (two in L.A.) are very, very long. After the tough loss in Game 2, they had to win all three games in Orlando to have a realistic shot at upsetting the Lakers.

I know there are a lot of people out there that aren’t very happy to see Kobe win another ring (and I’m one of them). But you have to give him credit for maturing enough to trust his teammates. He gave the ball up in a couple of key situations and they both led to Fisher threes.

It’s not quite over, but the Laker fans have reason to celebrate. Heck, most of them started planning the parade when L.A. won Game 2.

Is Kobe Bryant actually Pau Gasol’s sidekick?

Think about it…Pau Gasol is averaging 18.6 points and 10.6 rebounds per game in the playoffs, and is shooting a scintillating 58.1% from the field. One of the best gauges of overall offensive efficiency is points per shot (PPS), which is simply the total points scored divided by the number of field goal attempts. Gasol’s PPS is 1.54, which is outstanding.

Then you have Kobe. Sure, he’s averaging 30.1 points, but he has to shoot almost 23 shots per game to get those points. (He’s also averaging 5.4 assists and 5.1 rebounds.) His PPS is 1.33, which is still good, but is almost 14% less than Gasol’s.

Kobe is so determined to win a title this season for one reason — he wants to dispel the notion that he can only win a championship as Shaq’s sidekick. If the Lakers do manage to eliminate the Magic and Kobe does indeed get his fourth ring, he will have accomplished this feat…as Pau Gasol’s sidekick.

Now before any Kobe apologists start pounding furiously at their keyboards, I don’t actually believe this to be true. Kobe is the better player, but these numbers beg the question — why aren’t the Lakers using Gasol more?

Against the Magic, Gasol has made 23 of his 37 field goal attempts (62%). Against the Nuggets, he shot 63% from the field. The Spaniard is on such a roll right now that the Lakers should be feeding him the ball until the Magic find a way to stop him. Anytime Andrew Bynum is in the game, Rashard Lewis has to cover Gasol, and he’s no match for Pau in the post. Heck, even when Bynum goes to the bench, Gasol is scoring at will on Dwight Howard, the 2009 Defensive Player of the Year. Gasol was 9 of 11 from the field in Game 3, yet it was Kobe who took the most shots (11 of 25, 44%), even when he was clearly struggling down the stretch.

Mark my words, if Gasol keeps this production up and the Lakers go on to lose this series, it will be because Kobe took too many shots.

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