Battle Los Angeles: Why L.A. Is The Epicenter Of The Sports World

April 4, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant (24) controls the ball against the Los Angeles Clippers during the second half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE

The Staples Center will be busy for at least another week. Here's a preview of Lakers-Thunder, Spurs-Clippers and more in this week's Monday Morning Jones.

Before we get to this week's Monday Morning Jones, I'd be remiss not to mention the postseason success of the Los Angeles Kings. It's a shame Eazy-E didn't live long enough to see it. To the rest of the weekend ...

Why am I taking the Lakers to beat the Thunder? The Lakers did not play well overall against Denver, but they won. Next up is the Thunder in the most interesting upstart vs. veterans postseason matchup since Pistons-Celtics in the ‘87 Eastern Conference Finals. The Thunder were better in the regular season and better head-to-head, but they'll be undermanned inside like every other team would be this postseason against the Lakers. They have no one with JaVale McGee's length or Al Harrington's ability to force Pau Gasol into uncomfortable defensive positions. They also aren't as good on the defensive glass as the Nuggets. OKC will also take an offense already heavy on playing one-on-one against one of the better defensive coaches and teams in the league. But with James Harden on the floor, the Thunder can force Kobe Bryant to expend lots of energy on defense, and there's no one in purple and gold who can guard Russell Westbrook. All that said, I see the Lakers size and experience winning out in six games.

Here's my only takeaway from Clippers-Grizzlies. The Clippers are about to get smoked. Don't tell me about how well the Grizzles matched up with them, or that the aesthetically abject series those two gave us was about matchups and physical play. That was a banged up, poorly coached team who beat an outfit that looked clueless in almost every fourth quarter of the series. And that banged up, poorly coached team will travel to take on the rested Spurs, with Gregg Popovich on the bench. That shouldn't take long.

Who else expects Pacers-Heat to be quick? Going in to the this Eastern Conference Semifinal, it looked like it should have been compelling because of Roy Hibbert. Miami doesn't have a single player who should be able to guard him. He should be too big for Miami to go small, and too imposing for Miami to handle without a double team. And hey, he put up 17 and 11 in 29 minutes Sunday afternoon. But could you see Hibbert taking over this series and leading the Pacers to the upset? People have been waiting for Hibbert to do that since 2008, and it still hasn't happened.

The biggest worry for Miami, of course, is Bosh, and we'll know his story when the results come back from an MRI on his injured abdomen. And, as our Mike Prada wrote Sunday, that means the key to this series is ... Roy Hibbert.

Did you see KG Saturday night? There was a time when Kevin Garnett heard some of the same criticisms Carmelo Anthony hears now. Garnett went nine years before advancing in the playoffs, and his teams never did in Minnesota after that 2004 season. Before going to Boston, many had given up on the idea that he could be the guy on a championship team. His role in the Celtics' collective success has made all that irrelevant, but that history makes games like Saturday's Game 1 win over the Sixers more interesting. A week before his 36th birthday, Garnett carried the Boston to victory, scoring 29, grabbing 11 boards and blocking three shots.

Since being traded, he has proven to be the consummate champion, the emotional centerpiece of one of the great periods in the history of one of the NBA's most storied franchises. Maybe there would have been more games like this had Garnett played for better teams when he was younger. But considering where he was after 12 seasons, seeing him produce as he has the last couple of months is particularly special and impressive.

That cagey Chad Ochocinco. Some have taken Ochocinco's letter as a defense of Roger Goodell, but how could anyone spin this as anything other than Ochocinco telling his "Dad" he's full of it? It was Chad, so the assumption is that the letter was just goofy, but it was actually rather scathing. He's effectively calling the NFL and the media for its sudden concern for safety in the face of pending and future litigation. He's saying what seems to be the hardest thing for people to come to terms with -- there is no legislation that can make playing football safe. All the NFL can do is try to make people stop thinking and talking about that fact.

Instead, Ochocinco calls out the NFL's legislation and the accompanying coverage out for being disingenuous. And he hit ‘em on the way out with a mention to how little the league does to help players after their careers, men whom everyone knows will need that assistance. Like I said, Chad Ochocinco's a lot smarter than many of you think.

We don't believe you, you need more people. Thus far, we've had to take the NFL's word for everything Bountygate related. Well, except for the things we've learned that aren't quite true. That includes the details of Anthony Hargrove's declaration and the infamous e-mail from then-incarcerated Michael Ornstein.

Consider this -- if the league truly believed Ornstein's e-mail was relevant, wouldn't there be a huge investigation into what an outside source would get out of contributing to the pool? The bottom line is four players have been suspended for a combined 31 games. Two of them, Scott Fujita and Will Smith, have leadership roles in the NFL Players Association. And those we're expected to trust on this matter have been caught lying twice, and in significant ways. It's time for the NFL to show more of what it has, because their credibility on this issue is tenuous at best.

U Mad, Seminoles? The hilarity of conference realignment was underscored by Florida State's bizarre flirtation with the Big 12 last week. It says plenty that a new television contract would make members of FSU's board of trustees want to go elsewhere. These aren't conferences anymore. Schools are now just television partners, aligning based on what they think TV networks want.

Know what any television network would want? Florida State to be great again.

The ACC's television rights would certainly be more lucrative had FSU and Miami been the marquee names the conference expected each to be when the league expanded in 2004. Instead, the best the ACC has had to offer is Virginia Tech, which is annually good-but-not-great. ACC football isn't very good, but Florida State has done nothing in the last 11 years to change that perception. Now, after averaging 8.5 wins per season since 2001 -- including vacated wins -- they want to go deal with a real-live football conference? Yeah, good luck with that.

Reminiscing over Rangers-Devils. I'm not much of a hockey fan, but hearing about a Rangers-Devils Eastern Conference Final in the Stanley Cup Playoffs made me nostalgic. There was a time when hockey had more of a mainstream cool than it does now. Rappers wore hockey jerseys in videos, the irresistible fun of hockey video games provided a gateway for even the most ignorant observers could enjoy a hockey game on ESPN. Oh, and hockey was on ESPN, meaning it got as much attention from the American sports fan as it ever did.

That was when "1940" was right up there with "1918," two years that typified the angst of the most famously frustrated fans of their respective sports. And before the Rangers finally hoisted the Cup for the first time in 54 years, there were seven classic games against the New Jersey Devils that culminated on the single most peculiar day in the history of American sports. Like in ‘94, the Devils have Martin Brodeur between the pipes, who became an all-time great since the last time these teams met in this round. Opposite him is the best in the game, Henrik Lundquist. Yeah, this should be a good one.

Some perspective on the alleged textbook thieves at Arkansas. I knew a guy in high school who stole a cop car. He got caught after he tried to hawk the police issue firearms he came across to a pawn shop. I mention that to say, believe it or not, I have heard of something dumber than the news out of Fayetteville this weekend. But that's how dumb it had to be to be dumber than repeatedly selling books back to the same bookstore in the same semester. People notice that sort of stuff, kids. Especially when you play for the football team.

Here's a question for the soccer fans in the house. I don't know much about the culture of soccer, but can someone explain how this Joey Barton fellow didn't get stomped out for this?

Barton_medium

Call me boorish, but the idea of Barton doing this and opponents putting their hands on him without putting their hands on him is inexplicable. Is this how they do in soccer? Because that's not the sort of change I can believe in.

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