The Los Angeles Lakers closed the 2000’s the same way they opened them-with an NBA Championship. The Lakers established themselves as the NBA Dynasty of the 2000’s by defeating the Orlando Magic 4-1 in the 2009 NBA Finals for their fourth championship of the decade. The Los Angeles Lakers represented the Western Conference in the NBA Finals six times during the 2000’s and won more NBA Championships during the decade than any other team made NBA Finals appearances.
The Lakers hired Coach Phil Jackson in 1999 and in his first season at the helm he led them to their first championship in over a decade. Before the Lakers and Jackson could enjoy success in 2000 they had to overcome some serious adversity.
Heading into the fourth quarter of Game 7 of the 2000 NBA Western Conference Finals the Los Angeles Lakers trailed the Portland Trail Blazers 71-58. Los Angeles mounted a historic comeback by outscoring Portland 31-13 in the fourth quarter and won the game 89-84. Kobe Bryant led the Lakers in points (25) and was the game leader in rebounds (11), assists (7), and blocks (4) as he helped propel the Lakers to the NBA Finals. Had it not been for this historic Game 7 comeback the Los Angeles Lakers may not have ever established themselves as the NBA Dynasty of the 2000’s.
The Los Angeles Lakers won their first championship of the decade by defeating the Indiana Pacers 4-2 in the 2000 NBA Finals.
In 2001 the Lakers posted the best postseason record in NBA history by going an amazing 15-1 in the playoffs. In the first round they swept the Portland Trail Blazers 3-0. Los Angeles met the Sacramento Kings in the Western Conference Semifinals and dispatched them in four straight games. In the 2001 Western Conference Finals they totally annihilated the team with the best record in the NBA, the San Antonio Spurs. The Lakers defeated the Spurs 4-0, outscored them 414-325 for the series, and held them to 90 points or less in all four games.
After sweeping their way to the Finals the Lakers suffered an overtime loss to the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 1 of the 2001 NBA Finals. They responded to the hiccup by winning the next four games and earning back-to-back NBA Championships.
In order to make it to the 2002 NBA Finals the Lakers had to get past the same three teams they swept in 2001. They once again swept the Trail Blazers in the first round. The San Antonio Spurs won Game 2 of the Western Conference Semifinals in Los Angeles to wrest home-court advantage from the Lakers but were unable to win either of their home games and succumbed to Los Angeles in five games. In the 2002 Western Conference Finals Los Angeles needed seven games, overtime, and a little luck to overcome the Sacramento Kings-who had the best record in the NBA that season.
After barely escaping the Kings Los Angeles swept the New Jersey Nets in the 2002 Finals to complete their three-peat. With three straight championships to open the decade a new NBA dynasty was born.
Four Future Hall of Famers and Another Trip to the Finals
After the Lakers failed to advance past the second round in the 2003 playoffs they added Karl Malone and Gary Payton to a roster that already featured Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. With four perennial All-Stars and future Hall of Famers the Los Angeles Lakers were seemingly destined to win their fourth NBA Championship of the decade.
The Lakers won 56 games during the 2003-2004 regular season for their fifth straight 50 win season of the decade. In the first round of the playoffs they defeated the Houston Rockets 4-1. The Lakers’ Western Conference Semifinals opponents that year were the same San Antonio Spurs that ousted them from the 2003 playoffs. The Lakers beat the defending NBA Champion San Antonio Spurs in six games and ended San Antonio’s season for the third time in four years. They faced the Minnesota Timberwolves, who had the NBA’s best record that season, in the Western Conference Finals and defeated them 4-2.
But the Lakers and their Hall-of-Famers fell to the Detroit Pistons 4-1 in the 2004 NBA Finals.
From the Finals to the NBA Draft Lottery
After falling to the Detroit Pistons the Los Angeles Lakers lost the services of Karl Malone, Shaquille O’Neal, Gary Payton, and Head Coach Phil Jackson. They were replaced, respectively, by Lamar Odom, Chris Mihm, Chucky Atkins, and Rudy Tomjanovich (who resigned after 43 games). Needless to say Lakerland had changed.
Instead of earning a trip to the 2005 NBA Finals the new-look Lakers found themselves in the 2005 NBA Draft Lottery with an abysmal 34-48 record.
Back-to-Back Playoff Failures
After a one-year hiatus Phil Jackson returned to the Lakers in June of 2005.The 2005-2006 Lakers won 11 games more than their 2004-2005 counterparts did and met the second-seeded Phoenix Suns in the first round of the 2006 NBA playoffs. After taking a 3-1 series lead the Lakers failed to close out the Suns and lost in seven.
The Lakers and Suns met in the first round of the 2007 postseason too. This time the Lakers managed only one win and trailed the entire series.
Kobe Asks to be Traded
After three seasons of failure Kobe Bryant publicly asked to be traded before the start of the 2007-2008 season. Bryant suggested the Lakers were not committed to winning and that he and the Lakers had “two different visions for the future.”
Dr. Jerry Buss, the Lakers’ owner, stated that the Lakers would “pursue every avenue possible to improve our team with him as the cornerstone.”
The Lakers kept Kobe Bryant and then made a trade that showed him that they were committed to winning.
Back-to-Back NBA Finals Appearances
In February of 2008 the Los Angeles Lakers completed a trade with the Memphis Grizzlies for Pau Gasol.
“It shows a great deal of commitment from the organization,” Kobe Bryant said after hearing the news.
Bryant, Gasol, and the Lakers finished the season with a 57-25 record to edge out the New Orleans Hornets and San Antonio Spurs (both 56-26) for the top seed in the Western Conference.
In the first round of the 2008 NBA playoffs the Lakers swept a 50-win Denver Nuggets team. Then they met the Utah Jazz in the Western Conference Semifinals and defeated them 4-2. In the Western Conference Finals Los Angeles defeated the defending NBA Champion San Antonio Spurs in five games and earned their fifth trip to the NBA Finals during the 2000’s.
The Los Angeles Lakers lost the 2008 NBA Finals in six games to their nemeses the Boston Celtics.
The Lakers opened the 2009 NBA playoffs by defeating the Utah Jazz in five games. After giving up home-court advantage in Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals the Lakers needed all seven games to get past the Houston Rockets. Los Angeles faced the surprising Denver Nuggets in the 2009 Western Conference Finals and beat them 4-2 to earn back-to-back trips to the NBA Finals.
The final season of the 2000’s ended in another purple and gold coronation as the Lakers defeated the Orlando Magic 4-1 for their fourth NBA Championship of the decade.
With six NBA Finals appearances, four NBA Championships, and a three-peat to their credit the Los Angeles Lakers clearly established themselves as the NBA Dynasty of the 2000’s.
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Information from NBAUniverse.com, ESPN.com,SportsIllustratedCNN.com, and Basketball-Reference.com was used for this article.