Showtime: 4pm PT
Plot: For any other team in the league, they'd be licking their chops with the prospect of breaking a three game losing streak against the Charlotte Bobcats, even on the road. The 'Cats have been amongst one of the league's worst franchises since their inception, registering only one winning season in the past decade. This year doesn't appear much different, as Charlotte struggles along with one of the NBA's worst offenses despite a 10-13 record keeping them in the putrid Eastern Conference playoff picture. Still, playing the Bobcats should be an eminently winnable game for any decent team.
But for the Los Angeles Lakers, they might not fit either of those qualifiers.
The Lake Show is coming off a 122-97 beating at the hands of the Oklahoma City Thunder who trounced LA in almost every conceivable way. The Lakers were out-hustled and out-executed by an opponent clicking on all cylinders, led by Kevin Durant who somehow scored 31 points on just 13 shots. Los Angeles gave up just 56 points in the paint, a relative victory considering how poorly they've fared in the previous several weeks. Still, the story looked the same in game 3 of Kobe's return: a discombobulated offense that was even slower than its been without starting point guard Steve Blake. The Lakers couldn't get enough open looks from the corners, limiting what's been their biggest offensive advantage thus far this season.
The story could be the very same tonight in Charlotte against what's been one of the league's most surprisingly efficient defenses. The Bobcats give up just 92.4 ppg, second in the league. Old Lakers assistant coach Steve Clifford has gotten his team of young, unproven players to display the best defensive instincts of their careers, locking down nearly every team that's come their way; of their 22 games, only 4 teams have scored above 100 points. Despite a very slow, very ineffective scoring attack, the Bobcats are a very disciplined, albeit flawed team.Translation: this isn't good for a Lakers team that's trying to find its offensive rhythm...or any Lakers team if we're talking about facing Charlotte.
LA has gotten into the very peculiar habit of inexplicably losing to the Bobcats. The Lakers' all-time record against Charlotte is a mystifying 9-8, which includes four Western Conference Champion teams and ten years of Kobe Bryant. The Lakers finally swept the Bobcats for the first time ever last season in one of the stranger pieces of franchise trivia. Whatever the reason, the Lakers have had an extremely hard time beating Charlotte--and many times, that's when the team was competing for championships rather than struggling to find an identity on both sides of the ball.
Kobe Bryant will take another step in his return tonight, as this game will be his first back-to-back set this season. He only played 23 minutes in last evening's blowout loss, which in addition to his newfound role as starting point guard, should bode well for him still being able to stay spry on the floor. The Lakers will have to continue to evolve and find ways to score and stop without several key contributors, specifically in regards to trying to stop Kemba Walker and Gerald Henderson from exploiting the defense with their speed and shooting.
It seems that we write the same words every single game: this should be a tough one for the Lakers, but a necessary step in trying to find out just who this team really is. But against a Bobcats franchise that LA cannot beat in the best of circumstances, I'm not sure that tonight will be a positive step at all.
--Follow this author @TheGreatMambino