Showtime: 6:00 pm PT
Plot: As glum as thing have been for the Lakers this season, it's been a very consistent downward slide fitted against little expectation. It's nothing like last season, when a mountain of championship dreams were met with a volcanic explosion of injury, in-fighting and off the court drama.There's no daily reminders of a potentially fantastic season gone wrong this year.
Well, except for tonight.
The Brooklyn Nets, with their trumpeted additions of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to a core of Brook Lopez, Joe Johnson and Deron Williams, smelled faintly of the 2012-2013 Los Angeles Lakers. An offseason of moves involving Hall of Fame players, a couple of veterans hunting for elusive championship glory and a small window for contention. Sound familiar? As far away as this year's edition of the Lakers are from last's, it seems that they'll see a distorted mirror image of those fellows at STAPLES Center tonight.
The Nets are coming back after a horrid 10-21 start, winning 15 of their last 22 games even after the season-ending injury to Lopez months ago. They've been resuscitated in part because of their renewed focus on defense, holding opposing teams to under 100 points in all but 6 of those 22 games. The pace they play at, 26th in the league, only helps what has to be the NBA's least athletic, least mobile teams keep locking down opponents. Brooklyn has found a way to use its immense size and strength at nearly every position to bully opposing teams, forcing every game to move at a glacial pace. Brooklyn has used their strengths to beat up on much less talented squads lately, destroying the Charlotte Bobcats, Utah Jazz, New Orleans Pelicans and Philadelphia 76ers. The Los Angeles Lakers, it seems, would fit that bill.
That is, if Swaggy P's return doesn't revitalize the entire team. Nick Young returns after sitting for over two weeks with a non-displaced fracture in his knee. Young's presence will add to a strangely packed back court rotation, with incumbents Kendall Marshall, Jordan Farmar and Jodie Meeks being joined by new imports MarShon Brooks and Kent Bazemore. The pair made a great debut against Boston on Friday night, combining for 29 points on 12 for 21 shooting and generally energizing a Lakers team that looked fairly horrid during a blowout loss to the Houston Rockets two nights before.
Young's return will give the Lakers DNP-CD more than one player tonight, something that coach Mike D'Antoni rarely has the luxury of entertaining. LA is entering a stretch of games that serve, more than anything, as a prolonged audition for next year's team. Nick Young is at the center of it, as he is almost guaranteed to become a free agent this summer and the Lakers need to know just how much they'll want to pay him.
In many ways, this is next season's Lakers playing against last season's. Who will prevail?
--Follow this author @TheGreatMambino