Tonight, the Los Angeles Lakers will take the floor against an opponent who likes to keep the pace high, score a lot of points, and for whom defense is not a primary (or secondary, or tertiary or ... 4-ary?) focus. Stop me if you've heard this one before.
I mean, c'mon NBA. For a team like the Lakers, the regular season can be a bit of grind, and that sentiment can extend to the fanbase as well. Let's face it, for a team with its eyes on postseason glory, the whole process of getting to that postseason is a bit of an afterthought. But did the NBA really have to drive that point home by scheduling the same team for the Lakers' first three games? Fast pace, offensive firepower, little to no defense, you might as well combine these three teams and call them the Golden Phoenix Rockets. Actually, that sounds kind of awesome. Who says contraction is a bad idea?
Then again, if the beginning of this NBA season has lacked a bit of variety when it comes to our opponents, it certainly has not lacked in quality entertainment. For the general public, an up-and-down game with lots of points is always going to have the watchability edge over teams that dig in and slow the game down. So perhaps we should be thanking the league for easing us into the season and not forcing a slow down slug-fest against a team like the Bobcats or Hornets.
Tonight, the Lakers face the Golden State Warriors, a franchise which can see the sun just on the other side of the hill. All things considered, things are going pretty damn well for the W's. They finally got new ownership which seems poised to improve their moribund performance over the last 20 years. They jettisoned a coach who may have been actively attempting to lose last season. And, with a 2-0 start, they have been tied for the Pacific Division lead since their opening game last Wednesday night, and will probably stay tied for at least the next 6 hours or so.
All of this brings a tiny smile to my face. Maybe it's because I've never considered them a threat, but I like the Golden State Warriors. A game against them is always entertaining, almost always results in a win, and the Warriors have a vast fan potential just waiting to be tapped by a run of decent (good isn't even required) basketball. The Warriors were responsible for my favorite playoff series not involving the Lakers of all time, when they shocked the world as an 8th seed and upset a 67-win Dallas Mavericks team in the 1st round, a victory keyed almost entirely by the most rabid fan base I think I've ever seen.
Right, we'll start our actual basketball analysis with some good news/bad news regarding tonight's opponent. The good news? Stephen Curry will likely not be playing tonight. Without Steph, the Warriors' chances for a victory go from low to minuscule. The Warriors still have Monta Ellis to handle the ball, but Ellis doesn't do near as well with distributing as he does with scoring, so it will make GS much more predictable in what they will be doing offensively. They can still fill it up, especially with the addition of an inside scorer in David Lee, but Curry takes their offense to another level, one that adds some cohesion to a stockpile of offensive talent.
The bad news? Stephen Curry will likely not be playing tonight. From an entertainment standpoint, this brings a legitimate frown to my face, because Curry may not be (close to being) the best player in this league, but he's my favorite non-Laker to watch. I would find a Stephen Curry shootaround to be entertaining. His shooting stroke is about as pure as they come, he's got great court vision and smooth handles, there really isn't anything not to love about Steph's game. Well, defense, but he plays for Golden State, so who cares?
Their strong start has been led by Ellis, who is setting the world on fire right now. 30 points a game on only 18 field goal attempts, shooting 67%!!! He's playing as if he had been carrying Don Nelson on his shoulders and that weight is now gone. With Curry out, he'll likely slide over to the "point guard" spot, which means the Lakers will need to either hide Derek Fisher on somebody else or be prepared to see someone make an attempt on Kobe Bryant's 81 point performance.
Aside from Ellis, Dorrell Wright has been killing it for the W's as well, with 20 points a game and 65% three-point shooting despite taking seven attempts per game. (God, I love early season statistics, aren't small sample sizes great?) David Lee is fitting in nicely, which shouldn't be a surprise because he came from a system with a similar disdain for defense. And that, along with the departed Curry, pretty much sums the Warriors up.
How do they match up with the Lakers? Terribly. Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol will devour the Warriors whenever they feel like it inside, and with Barnes, Bryant and Artest, the Lakers have enough guys to send at Ellis that they should be able to limit his effectiveness quite a bit. This will also be their first road game (let's see you shoot 50% from three away from home, boys) and the Lakers might be just a little bit better than their previous opponents, the (Yao-less one 2nd night of a back-to-back) Houston Rockets and the Los Angeles Blake Griffins.
In any case, tonight should be a good deal of fun, with a high probability of a happy ending. Plus, it's our first chance to see the Lakers play in those lovely Sunday whites. Our first chance to see some defensive intensity will just have to wait.