Well, this is a new landscape. Where to start? Lakers? Good job against Atlanta. You should beat a team like that by double digits. Pau Gasol looked great and for once the team didn’t ease off the gas in the second half. Good way to start off after the All Star Break. The game against the Portland Trailblazers was a much better barometer though. Finally, RonRon put down the cologne and the mix CDs and got down to earning his paycheck by playing some solid D and for some reason having a hot hand and getting a ton of shots to fall. That’s the Ron Artest we need from here on out.
Speaking of getting hot? Was that some kind of 2006 Kobe hologram playing? Holy smokes! I guess Portland forgot that when Kobe turns it on, he turns it ON. There were a couple of his patented Jedi mind trick head fakes that were beautiful to watch. Best part is the reaction from the other players when he hits those. Lakers players are like….yep….that’s the Mamba. Opponents are more, “Whu? That’s for real? That Kobe still exists? I thought that was just in video games?! I thought that was only on old SportsCenter highlight reels!” Nope. He can still bring it.
Speaking of which, Kobe played 45 minutes in this OT win. I will never challenge his knowledge of his own body and how much exertion it can take. That being said, I plan to continue to freak out over his minutes and knees and fingers all the way til the end of June.
Next up for the Lakers are the Clippers. Should be a fun game. No Kias allowed this time. Blake. It’s at Staples, so I expect the starters to start in front of the home crowd, but I’d also expect extended playing time from the bench. I’d love to see Matt Barnes in the game for at least a little bit, but not if there is any chance he is coming back too early. There is no Baron Davis, so it’s just the Blake Show versus the Lake Show. The main thing is everybody being healthy and rested for OKC on Sunday.
I remain terrified of Oklahoma City. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are scary fast. I know Kobe will always want to defend them—recall he went against Durant in the playoffs. I’ll never forget the hug Kobe gave KD after the Lakers finally beat them in the playoffs last year. It was respect. Respect from Kobe for Kevin Durant’s game and relief that the Lakers got by them. Well, Kevin Durant is still pretty fast and Russell Westbrook is coming into his own having previously been a prisoner of Ben Howland’s defense first philosophy. (Let me state for the record: as a UCLA alum—I LOVE Ben Howland. I bet NBA GMs and coaches do too. He does half their job for them by forcing his charges to play defense and learn coverages. Take a look around the league and see how many Ben Howland alums are hot right now.) Well, Russell Westbrook is now discovering the joy of shooting the basketball again. Watch out.
This is a measuring stick game for the Lakers. Who guards Durant? What about Shannon Brown? He certainly has the speed to keep up. Put Ron Artest on Russell Westbrook and get physical although Westbrook will win the speed battle. Maybe the Lakers will have to play defense by handing off coverage from the perimeter to the paint. I know Kobe will want to be on one of these two guys, but this is a marathon, not a sprin...let some of the other guys absorb the blows and the minutes. Kobe can draw the double teams and let his teammates take advantage. I’d really like to see Pau and Lamar put up some big points. This game should be fascinating, especially from a defensive standpoint for the Lakers.
With the caveat of anything can happen, we can make a safe guess that the serious playoff contenders in the West are the Lakers, OKC, Dallas and San Antonio. Assuming health. I’m sorry Salt Lake City (of tears) and Denver, your teams just got gutted. I can’t see any way you can make any kind of deep playoff run. New Orleans and Portland can make some noise. We’ll see how they fare over the next month or so.
So with that as a set up—how about this Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City trade!!!!! I can’t understand why Boston would do it. Are KP’s knees worse than anybody but the Celtic’s training staff knows? They need his big body to match up against the Heat and the Magic. To say nothing of the Bulls. I learned the hard way not to underestimate Joakim Noah. No matter how that whole situation shakes out it looks to be a full tilt brawl to get to the finals in the East. Which is great for the Lakers.
Meanwhile, the West just got more interesting too. OKC now has a big body to counter San Antonio and Dallas. And yes, Los Angeles. This could get very interesting.