You may recall earlier this season when, amidst the hype about the Lakers pushing for 72 wins (those were the days), Phil Jackson said emphatically his team wouldn't get there. But Miami could. Of course, when the Heat soon hit the skids, Jackson also wondered aloud how long it might take for Miami's Big Three to march into Pat Riley's office and demand he replace Erik Spoelstra. Moreover, he's consistently hit the theme of the best team -- not the team with the biggest stars -- wins.
Wednesday on the Max Kellerman Show on 710 ESPN, Jackson again beat the team drum. After professing great admiration for the skill of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade ("[They] have unstoppable characteristics.") he returned to his refrain on Miami's playoff future. "I personally don't think they can get by Boston," Jackson said. "I think Boston is too good a team. I think a team is still going to win. But there's a chance that they will, and they can maybe round themselves into a team by that time and do that. Boston is older and they have to go through the rest of the schedule without having some kind of breakdown of players. Allen and Perkins, etc., they are just really a good team."
That Miami has lost four straight isn't important -- they're not healthy. Nor is it important that by picking Boston over the Heat, Jackson backs up my preseason prediction for Eastern Conference champ (though it is nice). Whether he's giving his honest evaluation of the landscape or trying to enhance the already constant scrutiny on every move Miami makes -- or a combination of the two -- is a point of discussion. At the very least, I suspect he's very curious to see how the Heat hold up come playoff time, when the focus placed on them becomes even more intense and has little interest in making life easier for them. In that, he has much in common with most of the basketball universe.
There's another aspect, too. In promoting Boston this way, Jackson lends a natural counter to the argument he's only won because he has the best players. Instead, he's helped shape the best teams, which is why he's won.
In other fun nuggets from the interview:
-Jackson was asked how long he suspects Kobe Bryant will be able to play at a truly elite level: "I've encouraged him to maybe take a look at some of Michael [Jordan's] career. In '97,'98, his last few years of Michael's play when the Bulls were still able to win it, but you could see that there was some tailing off of his capabilities and ability. Maybe not much. And it's not quite as comparable, but it's pretty close. I think that [Kobe has] a couple years of play that are still left, and he's got to monitor it a lot. And he's got to do what he's doing now... to still crank it up and get his team performing at a high level. Those things will continue because he's got the knowledge and the desire to do those things that will bring him to a championship, or to competing at [the only] level where he can live. That's the only place where he can live, is where he can be at the top."
I guess Jackson chooses not to acknowledge Wizards Jordan. In fairness, most of us like not to think about it, either.
-Jackson, notorious for his use of the media to deliver messages to his players- to anyone, really- explained his approach: "I do sometimes say the most honest thing. Reporters will ask me a question, and I'll be very blunt and make a statement that I think is as true as I can make it, but there's always a little encouragement to do better and improve at certain levels, and I don't miss that opportunity to do that. I think the press is there for your services as a coach, and there's a message there you can use to get across and I think it's important for a coach or anybody in that position to use that position as an opportunity."