OAKLAND CA - JANUARY 12: Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers plays tight defense on Monta Ellis #8 of the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena on January 12 2011 in Oakland California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
The Los Angeles Lakers have hardly jumped out of the 2012 NBA season's starting gate, have they? Four wins, four losses. Defense that looks great one day and horrid the next. Three point shooting that is one or two feasts short of a famine of biblical proportions. And, of course, shot distribution that lays the groundwork for future confrontation. It's hardly been the start of champions.
It's also hardly been unexpected. An opening night loss to the Chicago Bulls, without Andrew Bynum? Called it. Losing tough road games in Denver and Portland? Not exactly surprising. The Lakers have lost those types of games in seasons past without hinderance to their championship aspirations. Only the loss at the Sacramento Kings is a true outlier result in this young season. Besides that game, the Lakers have won every game we could reasonably expect them to win, and lost every game we might reasonably expect them to lose. 3 tough contests sprinkled in as the games have come fast and furious (Only Miami, Dallas and Sacramento have played as many games as the Lakers at this point, and none of those teams play tonight) ... the Lakers aren't a .500 team. They've had a .500 schedule.
As of now, that begins to change.
Starting with tonight's contest against the Golden State Warriors, the Lakers will have the opportunity to feast on some less than strong opponents, and they'll get to do so mostly at home. Check out the upcoming 5 game schedule:
- vs. Golden State
- vs. Memphis
- vs. Phoenix
- @ Utah
- vs. Cleveland
Only the game against Memphis even qualifies as a contest that should be competitive. If the Lakers at all plan on making any kind of moves in the regular season this year, now is the time to get moving, because on the other side of this 5 game respite is a much less forgiving stretch of @Clippers, vs. Dallas, @ Orlando, @ Miami. The Lakers need to win 4 of the next 5 games just to ensure they won't be bumming around .500 at the end of that stretch, so avoiding the kind of lapses that led to their 2nd defeat of the season is critical.
With that, we turn our attention fully to tonight's opponent, the Golden State Warriors. There is plenty to be exicted about in Dubs-land these days, but most of that excitement is measured in the scale of "we've been terrible for 20 years, so what's a few more". Meaning, the future looks potentially bright, because the team has new owners who are potentially not incompetent, with big plans for a new stadium and big stars. Just the idea that GS is willing to get into the Dwight Howard market even if it's just a rental, with the confidence in their ability to sell Howard on a future with the Warriors, is proof enough that the franchise might just be heading in the right direction. But in the mean time ...
We'll start with the coach. I've rarely taken more enjoyment out the hiring of a head coach than I did when I found out that Golden State hired former TV Analyst Mark Jackson. You might remember Jackson as the only man in the history of the world who can speak only in platitudes, which is even more impressive because his platitudes don't even make sense. Jackson has wanted to get into coaching for years, except he didn't want to do so enough to, you know, start coaching as an assistant like everybody else does. But no matter, apparently Golden State liked what he had to say enough to give him the head coaching job despite having no relevant experience whatsoever. That's my kind of hire.
With Jackson in place at the head of the team, the front office sought to make a big splash in the free agent market. First, they went after Chris Paul. Then, it was Tyson Chandler. Then, they threw a bunch of money at DeAndre Jordan, but not enough that the Clippers didn't match the deal. To make matters worse, they amnestied Charlie Bell, he of a contract that didn't even use the full mid-level exception, to make room for the offer to Jordan (which had no chance of success) when more worthy candidates like David Lee and Andres Biedrins were begging for the axe. And the best part? They settled on handing out $7 million a year to ... wait for it ... Kwame Brown. The last team to give Kwame that kind of money was ... well, it was us. The Kwame deal isn't quite as bad as it sounds, because it's only for one year. If anything, Kwame is acting as cap space filler as much as he is acting as lane space filler. But still, to go from Paul to Chandler to Jordan to Kwame without a significant reduction in salary offered is just plan turrible.
So what do the Warriors have going for them? In years past, the answer was simple ... entertainment. There have been few teams over the past 5 years or so as entertaining as the Warriors. They have almost always had a good offense, and they've always operated at a breakneck pace that would make even systemic losing tolerable. With a back court pairing of Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry, the W's were must watch NBA television even if they ended up in the lottery every year. But, so far under Jackson, those attributes are out the window. The Warriors are 26th in the league in offensive efficiency, 19th in pace, and just 25th in scoring. They've improved defensively, but the improvement is from "Loyola Marymount we're not even trying" status to bottom third in the league status. Since these changes have not corresponded, so far, with any change to their ability to win games effectively, this team has lost a lot of interest from the average NBA consumer. I don't know, maybe the folks in the bay area were so tired of their lovable loser that any change is welcome. I just know that if I were them, I'd be having some serious buyer's remorse about the direction of the team at the moment.
Matchups wise, there's not a lot to digest. Steph Curry is out with a sprained ankle, so the Lakers will only have to worry about one uber-quick guard tonight. Monta Ellis has been known to do numbers on L.A. in previous matchups, but I have to imagine the Lakers will do OK keying in on him. Behind Ellis, David Lee really is the only other notable player on the team, but compared to the Lakers' front line, that's not saying much. Speaking of that front line, Golden State ironically does have the size to avoid being pushed around too badly in the paint, and they ironically have that size because of the aforementioned Kwame Brown. Kwame really only does one thing well, get in the way of other big men trying to establish position.
It'll be fun to watch Drew try and beat up on somebody even remotely his own size. Sadly, it used to be fun watching Warriors games for other reasons.