What is it about the Charlotte Bobcats? It's been a sad joke around these parts that it's a good thing the Bobcats never make the playoffs (I guess the joke should be amended to making it past the first round), because if the Lakers ever met them in the NBA Finals, the Bobcats would sweep. But why do the Los Angeles Lakers always seem to struggle with this team? Is it their athleticism? Is it their defensive prowess? Is it the spectre of Michael Jordan? Is it payback for the fact that Kobe Bryant was originally drafted by the Charlotte Hornets before being traded to the Lakers? Is it fate?
All of those possibilities are probably factors, but none is the most important. What is the most important factor in describing the bizarre relationship between these two teams? I think it might be the schedule. For whatever reason, the Bobcats always seem to catch the Lakers in prime position for an upset. In no way does this excuse the fact that the Lakers are struggling with a team that has a winning percentage well below .500 over the franchise's entire existence (and the Lakers have struggled with them the entire time), but a Bobcats game always seems to fit one or more of the criteria for a classic schedule loss. Don't believe me? Let's review the last couple of seasons:
- The Lakers lost to Charlotte 109-89 on February 14th. The game was L.A.'s 4th in 5 nights, the 6th game of a long road trip, and the Lakers were coming off four straight road wins against good teams before losing to Orlando the night before. And it was Valentine's Day!!!
- The Lakers lost to Charlotte 98-83 on March 5th, 2010. The game was the 2nd night of a back-to-back, and the third game in four nights that started in Los Angeles and ended on the Eastern Seaboard. Oh, and the Lakers could look ahead to a game with the previous year's NBA Finals opponent Orlando the next game.
- The Lakers defeated Charlotte 99-97 on February 3rd, 2010. The game was the third game in four nights, once again involving cross-continental travel (starting in Boston, ending at home in LA), and it was the first home game after an eight game road trip, which is a known "tough game to win" phenomenon
And so we arrive at tonight's game. It shouldn't surprise you at all that I see the potential for another let down. The Lakers are winners of five in a row, which is right around the time we might normally see them decide to take a game off. And the Lakers are about to embark on a four game "Contenders" tour that involves games in San Antonio, in Atlanta, in Miami, and in Dallas. Whether looking forward, or looking back, the Lakers have plenty of reasons (not good reasons, mind you, but stuff that we have seen to be reasons in the past) to overlook tonight's contest.
But surely the revenge game will carry the day, right? Undoubtedly, the Lakers will be driven by the sour taste left in their mouth in suffering their worst loss (points wise) of the season to kill the team that dealt them the blow. Surely this latest batch of "on switch" we've seen is going to keep, because we're on the business side of the All-Star break and the time for building swagger is here. Right? I'd love to tell you yes, but this is the Lakers we are talking about, and their depravity knows no bounds.
I'm not saying I expect another Laker defeat. To expect defeat at the hands of this bad, bad team, a team that just traded away its best player for pocket change, a team that just lost by 40 to another team that traded away its core (that would be Denver), is just plain silly. All I'm saying is that all the reasons the Bobcats have given the Lakers trouble in the past, well, those same reasons are present tonight. So if you are expecting a fully focused Laker squad to come out and demolish a weak opponent who has angered them, be prepared for the remote possibility of disappointment.
I'll be honest, in terms of actual analysis for this game, my well's pretty dried up. The Bobcats traded away Nazr Mohammed and brought in Joel Pryzbilla since the last time we saw them. It's a net loss productivity wise, but not size wise, and all we care about in terms of playing against L.A. is size. The Cats have a fair share of it, so volleyball won't work as a primary strategy for scoring points. L.A. will need to run its offense, limit turnovers and play smart in order to avoid yet another defeat at the hands of their regular season nemesis. Whether they win or lose is entirely up to them, and how much focus they afford a game that is stuck between an impressive winning streak and a daunting road trip.