x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Phil Jackson looking for a dozen NBA titles

Let's dream a little, and imagine the Los Angeles Lakers and the Chicago Bulls in the NBA finals.

Phil Jackson, who won six titles in Chicago, is looking to collect No 12 with Los Angeles.
Phil Jackson, who won six titles in Chicago, is looking to collect No 12 with Los Angeles.

Let's dream a little. Allow the imagination to wander and visualise ... the Los Angeles Lakers and the Chicago Bulls in the NBA finals.

The two-time defending champions against the up-and-comers. Derrick Rose versus Kobe Bryant. The West Coast versus the Midwest. And the most intriguing aspect of such a match-up would be the presence of Phil Jackson, the Lakers coach.

Jackson has won a record 11 NBA titles. He had a pair of three-peats (three consecutive titles) when he was coaching the Bulls. Then he had a three-peat with the Lakers and is now going for a second, in what he says is his last year as a coach.

Jackson wants an even dozen titles. And standing in his way could be the Bulls? What a match-up.

But even if most think it is the most likely scenario for the finals, neither team is assured of reaching the championship series.

The Bulls have been the league's best team since January, but they are an unproven quantity in the play-offs. In the two previous years, they finished 41-41 and were eliminated in the first round.

Those Bulls, of course, barely resemble this team. In his third season, Rose has emerged as a superstar. The team signed free agent power forward Carlos Boozer. They have a new coach, Tom Thibodeau.

And they have just got better and better. As they have taken to beating the NBA's elite, their confidence has swelled.

Last week they easily handled the Boston Celtics, a team they one held in near awe. No more.

"We know we can beat them," Rose said.

The Bulls are a maturing, smart, hungry team. They have beaten the Celtics and the Miami Heat this season. They will not have an easy road out of the East, but have established themselves as the favourite.

Then there are the Lakers, perhaps the NBA's most inconsistent team.

Heading into the All-Star break, they lost four consecutive games. After the break, they went 17-1. And they have since lost four in a row.

"Yeah, I'm concerned, very much so," Jackson said. "You can't turn the switch on and off like that in basketball without having to face some kind of price. Your game doesn't just come back all of a sudden."

The Lakers will be pushed to get past the San Antonio Spurs and the charging Oklahoma City Thunder.

But if they do, and the Bulls are there to meet them … what a great series that could be.

This week in the NBA

Players of the week

• Kwame Brown, Charlotte. For the week, 15.6 points, 6.7 rebounds, 63.3 per cent shooting – very solid, especially for a centre who has been given up on by four teams.

• Carmelo Anthony, New York. He averaged 27.3 points and 5.7 rebounds last week.

• DeMar DeRozan, Toronto. The second-year guard, below, is elevating his game. Last week, he averaged 27.3 points and 5.7 rebounds.

Teams of the week

• Chicago. The Bulls went 3-0, including a 16-point victory over the Boston Celtics, and have won their last six games.

• San Antonio. After losing six consecutive games, the Spurs went 4-0. Amazing what a healthy Tim Duncan can mean.

• New York. They, too, lost six consecutive games, but have come back with a 6-0 run.

Duds of the week

• Mike Bibby, Miami. Averaged five points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.5 assists.

• Carlos Delfino, Milwaukee. Not quite the scoring threat the Bucks were hoping for with an average of 5.5 points.

• Minnesota. Have lost 13 consecutive games, tying Cleveland at 17-63.

Games of the week

• San Antonio at Los Angeles Lakers, tomorrow. The West’s top two teams, this could be a preview of the Western Conference finals. The Spurs lead the season series 2-1, and have struggled of late but have turned it around with Tim Duncan back.

• New York at Boston, Wednesday. The final day of regular-season play, and both teams would like to carry some momentum into the play-offs, particularly the up-and-down Knicks.