With a four game win streak, and six wins in seven games, the Los Angeles Lakers seem to have put their latest wave of ennui/suckitude behind them. Whether they were physically unable, too tired to compete with the likes of the Spurs and Heat, or too bored to bother is something only they might know for themselves, but the team is coming off its best effort in over a month, both in terms of their on court production, and in literal terms of effort. The Lakers defense was active and engaged throughout the contest against New York, holding one of the league's better offenses to 0.89 points per possession. One never knows how long the Lakers will endure without one of their classic "let-down" games, but for the moment, the Lakers ship appears to be back on course.
But trouble is on the horizon, in the form of tonight's opponent, the Cleveland Cavaliers. No, the Cavs are not a threat, in any real, basketball-related, sense of the word, but they do provide a unique test of the Lakers' resolve. Considering the Lakers struggle to get up for even the most important regular season games, observing their energy against a moribund opponent like the Cavs will show just how much stock we can put in their newfound commitment to the regular season. If the team's New Year's Resolution is to take more interest in the regular season, kind of like a diet for their boredom, then the Cavs represent the first bake sale they've come across, and not just because they both involve cupcakes.
Discussing the plight of the Cavs is almost too painful to put into words. This team is a grizzly mess, a combination of poorly fitting pieces and divine cruelty. As presently constructed, their roster doesn't make much sense, but that's because of the gigantic hole in the center which used to be filled by one LeBron James. It's about as functional as the scraps of dough which are left over after cookies have been cut out of them, or two pieces of sandwich bread without any meat. The team (which, let's be honest, was flawed to begin with) had its centerpiece removed without replacement, and the results have been about as bad as expected.
I wish that was the whole story, but the tragedy that is the Cleveland Cavaliers goes far beyond simply losing a superstar. Their fall from grace has a touch of the divine, and not in the glorious, happy, or miraculous way the phrase is normally coined. It's bad enough that they were ditched at the altar by a home-grown superstar. That LeBron left them on national TV only added to the cruelty factor. But litle did we know, that was only the tip of the iceberg of the crap sundae which has been dealt the city of Cleveland.
At the start of the season, the Cavs fans that were left (and that is not a criticism, I'm not sure my fandom would survive that betrayal) were given some reason to be hopeful. The Cavs started out relatively well, able to band together with the power of an underdog mentality and scrape together a few victories. Things weren't great, but the forecasted apocalypse did not come to pass. Meanwhile, the team of their betrayer was struggling out of the gate, barely outperforming the home team through the first 15 games. All of these events took place with LeBron's return to Cleveland looming in the background, and as the game approached, it appeared to be an eminently winnable contest for the Cavs. Instead, they were humilated on their home floor, losing by 28 points. The loss killed any good feelings the Cavs had, and they've gone on to lose 18 of 19 games since then. To make matters worse, in what can only be described as a cruel joke of reality, that game turned Miami's fortunes around, too. Their record since that fateful night is a mirror image of the Cavs, having won 18 of 19 games.
And now they are being dealt a dose of the injury bug. Anthony Parker, Leon Powe, Boobie Gibson, and Joey Graham have all missed time so far this season, and their best player, Anderson Varejao, is now out for the season. Having told their story in excruciating detail, I'm not going to bother with stats on this one. Just know that they have the league's 2nd worst offense, and it's 4th worst defense. They have one guy on their current roster over 6'10", and Ryan Hollins got a DNP-CD in the last game.
The Lakers could lose this game, because the Lakers can lose any game, but it would be a monumental failure of their newfound resolve. This is exactly the type of team the Lakers usually take lightly, but it's also exactly the type of team they can afford to take lightly. But if they don't, if they actually approach this game with intensity and effort and respect for their opponent, that will be as much proof as you could hope for that the Lakers once again mean business about the regular season.
But I wouldn't count on it. Most New Year's resolutions don't survive the first month.