Pop quiz, hot shots: who's the best team the Lakers have beaten this season?
Let's tick through the most plausible candidates. There's Portland, sure. But the Trail Blazers have a below-0.500 record in November and a star shooting guard with two fewer menisci than the Surgeon General recommends. There's Phoenix, I suppose, but the Suns have lost their last three games by a combined 61 points. There are the Rockets, who looked formidable a month ago but have won only thrice all season. And everyone liked Milwaukee coming into this year, but at 5-8 they're far from living up to the hype. Who are we leaving out?
What about-... nah, it couldn't be. It's too ridiculous. You guys will just laugh at me. But what if...? No, no way. But... but who else is there?
Is it really possible that the Lakers' best win of the season came against the Golden State Warriors?
No, not really. I mean, maybe, but I'm not really going to sit here and give a strong "buy" recommendation on Golden State. Oddly enough, though, if you're going strictly by won-loss record, the Warriors do indeed rank first among opponents the Lakers have defeated. In fact, at 7-5 they have the best record of any opponent the Lakers have faced. That's both a measure of the Lakers' crap schedule to date and the extent to which Golden State has been one of the league's pleasant little surprises. Apparently, exorcising Don Nelson from an organization is worth a couple hundred points of winning percentage.
The Warriors pop into Staples tonight for their second and last visit of the season. Back on Halloween the Lakers spanked them something fierce. The champs roared to a 20-point first quarter lead and cruised from there, eventually winning 107 to 83. Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom dominated the Golden State bigs. The Lakers as a team collected 44% of their own misses on the offensive glass and turned those rebounds into 22 second-chance points. Here's video evidence of what went down.
That's pretty standard for when the Warriors come to visit. At Staples Center the Lakers have defeated them in 14 of their last 15 chances. It's a good bet they'll make it 15 of 16 this evening.
There have been a few material developments in Warriorworld recently. Most important for the franchise's long-term prospects, there's been a desperately needed change in ownership. Venture capitalist Joe Lacob and movie bro Peter Guber finally closed their acquisition of the team from the universally loathed Chris Cohan. (Well, universally loathed in basketball circles. I have no reason to believe Cohan's immediate family isn't fond of him. Don Nelson might also be a fan.)
Of more importance in the here and now has been the return to the lineup of Stephen Curry. Steph sat out the Warriors' first game against the Lake Show with a bum ankle. He's back and is as fun to watch as you remember. His three-point shooting is down from last season but is nonetheless up near 40%. And compared to his rookie year he's asserting himself more in the offense and getting to the free-throw line far more frequently. I'm going to climb out on this limb and propose that Curry just might make Derek Fisher look bad once or twice tonight.
Curry's backcourt mate Monta Ellis is having easily the best season of his young career. At the moment he and Kobe Bryant are second and third in the NBA in points per game. Steph and Monta are one of the most electric guard pairings around: in addition to their scoring prowess, they're both master thieves ranking in the top five in steal rate. They are, however, small, which isn't something you want to be when you're guarding Kobe. Le Mamba Noir could and should destroy Monta in the post.
The Warriors will need everything they can get from Ellis and Curry because their frontline is in dreadful shape. Power forward David Lee is recovering from one of the ickier injuries I've seen in the NBA. This is what happened.
Lee clocked Wilson Chandler in the mouf, which led to Chandler spitting a toof and Lee's elbow sustaining an infected puncture wound. Gee-ross! Late this past week, Lee was released from Stanford Hospital after two procedures to flush out Chandler's venom, but he's not playing tonight.
Neither is his backup Brendan Wright, out with a strained back. Nor his other backup, Louis Amundson, who has an injured finger and hasn't played at all this year. Nor will rookie big man Ekpe Udoh be available. He's out for several months after surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left wrist.
Against the Knicks on Friday the Warriors started two small forwards, Dorrell Wright and our old frie nd Vladimir Radmanovic. I'm guessing we'll see the same thing tonight, but we'll also see some of undrafted rookie Jeff Adrien. The point being, there will be mismatches aplenty in the paint, all of them in the Lakers' favor. There's no excuse for Lamar not to put up a tidy 18-and-10 line in this one.
Though they're undoubtedly improved over last year's disaster, the Warriors aren't as good as their record and aren't a team that's going to give the Lakers trouble at Staples, provided the champs don't completely mail it in. For Golden State to spring the upset, they'd need blazing-hot shooting from Ellis, Curry and Dorrell Wright, a massive night on the boards from Andris Biedrins and an out-of-nowhere breakout by a role player or two. Even then, the Lakers have the talent and size to trade baskets with them ‘til the break of dawn. Granted, the first home game after a road trip is legendarily tricky. But look for Kobe to light up whoever's guarding him and for Pau and Lamar to do their volleyball act at the rim as the champs swat away another overmatched opponent.
And word to the wise: if you decide to play a pickup game against Wilson Chandler, bring plenty of Neosporin.
Follow Dex on Twitter @dexterfishmore.