Today, the Regular Season Begins for the Los Angeles Lakers
Sunday, Dec. 26th 2010, 12:51pm
There's something wrong with the Los Angeles Lakers. Perhaps more telling than the back to back double-digit losses at home to two of the Eastern Conference's playoff contenders, the Milwaukee Bucks and then the Miami Heat, is the ejection provoked and suffered by the face of the Lakers, Kobe Bryant, in the fourth quarter of the first of these two home losses. Kobe's Lakers were down twelve points, 89-77, with more than two minutes to play against Milwaukee last Tuesday, when Milwaukee's second string point guard, Earl Boykins, drained yet another one of his four second-half three-pointers. In a slapdash response, No. 24 hurriedly pushed the entire way up the court to the basket, running straight into a sweaty Andrew Bogut, thereby picking up a demeaning whistle for an offensive charging foul. Stepping over Bogut without regard, Kobe directed words at the official, and was immediately handed a technical foul and then ejected from the game.
After their second straight clean loss at home, this time on Christmas Day against the Heat, Bryant told reporters, “These games mean more to our opponents than us.” And why shouldn't they mean more to the Lakers' opponents than to the Lakers? The most talked about team in the league, the Miami Heat, walked into the Staples Center on Christmas Day with everything to prove. The Heat were showing up as champions-to-be on the court of the champions-that-were. The Lakers' past two losses spotlight a sense of carelessness, a lack of vigour, that is magnified by one particular statistic: LA's complete lack of high profile wins this season.
At this point in the season, the Los Angeles Lakers have defeated only three teams that now have winning records, each game of which was played in bygone November. The three victories were gained at home against the Portland Trailblazers on Nov. 7th, at Milwaukee against the Bucks on November 16th, and at home against the Chicago Bulls on Nov. 23rd. Since the dawn of December, the Lakers have now lost to Chicago, Milwuakee, and Miami three winning teams that are developing into high-profile competitors. As post-season contenders are supposed to, the Lakers have handed decisive victories to the likes of Toronto, Philly, Indy, and Washington, but in the chilling month of December, the Lakers have failed to secure a single win against a team with a winning record.
We must keep in mind that this is largely due to the outline of the Lakers' schedule. Only six of the Lakers' thirty games have been against winning teams. This is a reality that I believe puts the Lakers in position to start warming up the engines for the rest of the Winter. Christmas Day against the Heat marked Los Angeles' first foray against a high-profile contender. And, frankly, I think it could be good for the Lakers that Kobe's pissed.
Tuesday the 28th brings Kobe and his healthy Los Angeles Lakers against the San Antonio Spurs. With their streak snapped by a newly reformed Orlando Magic, the San Antonio Spurs will be looking to make a homestand against the wavering Lakers. If Kobe's frustration can be channeled into a fury of concentration, he can begin to run the offense the way the Lakers did in the postseason: dumping it off to the big men. In the past couple of games, Kobe has looked slow at best, and I think it's because he's spending too much time with the ball around the perimeter. The Lakers rely heavily on the constant threat of Kobe's high-energy unpredictability, and No. 24 can only stay so unpredictable when he's handed the ball at the beginning of each drive.
In preparing for this article, I gave a look at the numbers of Gasol and Bryant, each of which are not drastically down from last year. Odom's point totals, however, are consistently ten less than they were last year. Giving the ball over to the big men down low is what made it for the Lakers in the most recent postseason. These two guys, complimented by a recovering Bynum who should begin to play more and more minutes in place of Odom rather than Gasol, demand to be double teamed when they show commitment to attacking the basket from the post position. Odom and Gasol must restrict themselves to maintaining stronger presences down low, thereby opening space for Kobe to slash to the basket.
Unfotunately, the Spurs threaten to run all over the Lakers with the speed of Parker and Ginobli. Matt Barnes and Shannon Brown will have to play some of their tightest defense, thereby developing confidence on that end, a confidence which can then transfer to easy open shots on the other end. Brown will have to slash with the speed that Kobe used to when Odom and Gasol create space in the lane by threatening down low.
Tuesday against the Spurs is a perfect game for the Lakers. See it as being their golden ticket, in that they've not had the pressure to win like they do now. Instincts will inspire these players. There will be more animalic shouts and grunts and chest bumps and muscle flexes from the NBA's royalty this Tuesday in San Antonio than we've seen all year.