Richard Mackson-US PRESSWIRE
In the midst of Phil Jackson's seemingly imminent arrival, there's still a basketball game.
Is Phil Jackson going to coach the Los Angeles Lakers again? Will he be able to start immediately, or will it be a matter of weeks? Is his assistant coaching corps accompanying him? How would Brian Shaw get out of his contract with the Indiana Pacers? How many road games would Phil Jackson be able to attend? Will the new personnel be able to run the triangle offense? How will Steve Nash react to another system that seemingly negates his greatest strengths as a basketball player? Can Phil come back to win it all? Does he still have it?
Amidst all these questions, we've almost forgotten that the 2-4 Los Angeles Lakers have a game tonight. No matter what the future will hold for the Show, Kobe, Dwight, Pau and company are in the middle of a present which counts as one of the worst starts in franchise history. Tonight's contest against the Sacramento Kings is the second in a six-game homestand, which (before Friday) the team thought could stabilize their extremely uneven play. But after Mike Brown's dismissal, the next five games are going to be anything but the model of steadiness. Phil Jackson could be a Lakers employee as soon as later tonight, and while the Zen Master is a familiar presence to some, he's still a new coach coming in midseason. As discombobulated as the Lakers could have been on Friday night, the Golden State Warriors couldn't quite take advantage of the situation.
As Kobe mentioned in his post-game interview, LA essentially won the game by playing pick-up basketball. Sets ranged from rudimentary to the screen-movement concepts they had been playing with in Mike Brown and Eddie Jordan's Princeton offense. The Lakers didn't play a great game, noticeably defensively, as the Warriors missed an unconscionable amount of wide open jumpers (not counting Andris Biedrins' hilarious free throw miss--get educated and hit up youtube). Still, LA proved that even in a street ball type of atmosphere, they have an overwhelming amount of talent that should give them a chance in any game. Against the hapless Kings, it should be much of the same.
The 2-4 Sacramento Kings aren't nearly as good as even their poor record indicates, with wins over the Warriors and a 2-point W over the Detroit Pistons. They're 29th in points per 100 possessions, and 14th in points allowed per 100 possessions. Team-wide, the Kings are shooting around 40% and a scorching 29% from 3-point land. This team is an odd assembly of shoot-first point guards, selfish gunning wings and undersized big men who can't defend the post. Unsurprisingly, Sacramento ranks 26th in assists and dead last in field goal percentage. Young center DeMarcus Cousins is perhaps the lone reason the Kings have won any games at all, averaging 17/10, but 22/13 in the team's two victories. Other than that, the backcourt has been pitiful, with Marcus Thornton, Tyreke Evans and Aaron Brooks shooting a combined 37% from the field. Rookie forward Thomas Robinson has been impressive at times, but won't play this game because of a two-game suspension for throwing a MWP-caliber elbow shiver into Jonas Jerebko's neck last Wednesday.
All in all, this game should be similar to Friday's contest against the Warriors. The Lakers have enough talent to overwhelm a Sacramento squad that just can't seem to do anything right. Interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff should be somewhat wary of Lakers killer Aaron Brooks, as well as Sacto's cadre of thus far unaccomplished, but still dangerous guards. However, Dwight Howard is looking quicker and more active every game, and LA seemed to derive a lot of energy from playing free from the restrictions of Mike Brown's offense. Despite the excitement of an 11-time champion coach coming back to town, the Lakers have to remember that they're still in the middle of a nightmarish start to the season. This is prime time for the Lakers to jump right back up the standings with home games against presumably easy opponents.