The minions of Mordor/The Empire/Hades/Los Angeles have arrived for a biannually special day in Sacramento - Lakers Day.
At some point (probably March, when the Lakers come back) I want to discuss at some length why this is still a rivalry to us, even though our truest current enemy has to be Golden State. Everyone who believes in their heart that Sacramento is a cowtown and all Sacramento fans are yokels will write a hundred times that this rivalry means everything to us and nothing to them. I sincerely beg to differ, but now is not the time.
What's the time? To check in with a co-patriot in blogdom, Kurt from Forum Blue & Gold. Here is the result of a short Q&A session on the Lakers as of Thursday, January 4, 2007:
Kurt: He's been one of the things the Laker have lacked since the championship years, a steady backup for Kobe. His offense stat line doesn't knock your socks off, but as the season has worn on he has looked more and more comfortable in the triangle offense (22 points against Atlanta, 17 against Utah; he seems to be figuring it out faster than Radmanovic). And man, those guys out of Detroit can play some defense -- which that has been doubly important for the Lakers because with Kobe's gimpy knee this season 24 has been a step slow at that end of the court. Don't be shocked if Evans gets a lot of Kevin Martin time tonight, even in crunch time. And if you can play defense, you can fit in fine for a few years with Phil Jackson.
Q: Chris Mihm is done and now Kwame Brown is shelved indefinitely. Lamar Odom isn't back for at least week, possibly more. That makes your depth chart at center... a guy who is younger than Hillary Duff, Lil Bow Wow, and the Olsen Twins. (Yay Wikipedia!) How is Phil Jackson going to - or how should he - handle this?
Kurt: First, I think he went to a church and lit a candle (or whatever the Zen equivalent of that is). Bynum gets the starting gig at center, and Cook is at the four (as he has been since about the third game after Odom went down). Bynum has played like a 19-year-old with potential, some nights he is focused, powering up dunks and hitting little 6-foot fade always, blocking shots and having opposing fans saying "damn Lakers got lucky again!" Then the next night Phil might as well have played Hillary Duff at the five (not Lil Bow Wow though, I saw that movie and the kid has hops). Bynum has a better PER than Kwame, and his opponent PER is much lower, but the bottom line is the Laker offense works noticeably better with Kwame in the game (more offensive rebounds, fewer turnovers and more trips to the foul line for all). Which Bynum shows up for any game, and if he can stay out of foul trouble (he's averaging 5.6 fouls per 40 minutes) will go a long way to determining how the Lakers do game-to-game for the next few weeks.
What may be the best news for Laker fans is Ronny Turiaf is now going to get playing time, not just sideline dancing time. The man is energy personified, not always channeled like you'd hope, but the effort is unquestioned. He was the only Laker who showed up to play Christmas day. If the team is flat, I'd hope Phil goes to him early. But then, I've hoped to see more Turiaf on the court most of the season.
Q: What are the key things Kobe is doing differently this season? Despite the injury bug and a lack of effectiveness from the big free agent signing (Shammond Williams, obviously), the Lakers are seemingly much improved. (Just kidding about Shammond.)
Kurt: Why the Lakers are better this season is that they are much deeper, and Kobe is giving those players more breathing room in the offense. Kobe is attempting 7 fewer shots per game this season (or at least he was, it's been 3.5 fewer since Odom went down). Some of that is because Odom was, and Walton is, able to take on more. But so can Mo Evans. And Radmanovic is finding his way some nights. And Bynum learned a few quality post moves from Kareem. And Jordan Farmar makes smart decisions in transition. And guys like Brian Cook have found their roles. That depth is helping the Lakers weather the injury storm fairly well, and they haven't even had to go to the ace-in-the-hole Shammond yet.
Many thanks to Kurt for the always astute insight. (And be sure to check in to FB&G often to see what's up in LaLaLand - Kurt has a nice group of mostly rational commenters who help in painting the pictures.)
All that said, let's get to the stuff.
PG - After a 7-15 night, Mike Bibby inches up to .375 field goal shooting. Still not "back." Also, stop shooting threes. (14-55 in last 10 games: 25.4 percent. And he's "back"? Good grief.)
SG - Kevin Martin is now getting a bit of All-Star hype, though he certainly won't get voted in as a write-in and probably won't beat out the glut of forwards and superstar guards. If it's my team to pick, though, he's the fifth guard on the West team behind starters Kobe and Nash, and "reserves" Iverson and Baron Davis.
SF - Ron Artest loves playing against Kobe Bryant. Just loves it. That makes games like this (no Lamar Odom, no Kwame Brown, just Kobe) so exciting. It's the closest thing the NBA has to great MLB pitching duels.
PF - Kenny Thomas had a pretty good game against New York. However, I much preferred his Golden State performance.
C - Brad Miller has more ejections than Ron Artest this season. Ron-Ron's slipping.
PG - I think Smush Parker is underperforming this season (PER around 11), yet I see him getting 30 minutes a game while Jordan Farmar is shooting well, not turning the ball over, and generally seems to function within the concepts of team offense and defense, yet plays 17 mpg. What am I missing?
SG - If Kobe Bryant could not sniff the MVP trophy last year, he'll never likely win it. (Same goes for Dirk.)
SF - There exists no more contemptable current Laker than he who is... Luke Walton.
PF - Brian Cook is either a poor man's Vlad Radmanovic, or a financially comfortable man's Vlad Radmanovic. This pendulum swings constantly.
C - Andrew Bynum could be Tex Winter's great-grandchild. Mathematically. Not literally. I think.
The Kings are 5-point favorites against a team which is nine games over .500. I really must be missing something. Why does Vegas love the Kings so much? I think the margin will be less than five.
INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT ANALYSIS:
Every single night, in this space, I could simply print that "inside play is key - the Kings need to hold
Kobe v. Ron-Ron,
a battle all love to watch.
Can Kev steal the shine?
It's a TNT backend, with Chaz Barkley sharing his pearls of... something. Enjoy, friends!