Saturday, November 3, 2007
I Can't Believe What I Just Saw!
Phil was being a jerk last night, and it couldn't have felt more right.
The Lakers absolutely thrashed the Suns last night, 119-98, in Phoenix's home opener, without Lamar Odom, with Kobe playing only 28 minutes and scoring only 16 points (although he did have 11 rebounds and 3 steals). Did NOT expect to be writing that sentence this morning, obviously. I'm the biggest Lakers fan this side of Jack Torrance, and a fairly optimistic one, but even with Phoenix playing the second half of a back-to-back (after a relatively hard fought win last night in Seattle) and L.A. coming off of three days rest, I gave Team Chaos zero chance last night. Zip, zilch, nada. Squadoosh. If anything, I was anticipating in horror a looming Monday morning, when the Lakers would be 0-3 after losing to another superior Western foe, the Jazz, at home on Sunday night, compacting an already terrible atmosphere. You could see it in the opener against Phoenix two nights ago against Phoenix; the whole Kobe Saga has cast a huge black cloud over the players, the fans...everything the associated with this franchise. It's a MAJOR distraction and it hangs over EVERYTHING. That was the darkest Lakers home game I've ever seen; Kobe played hard as always and did everything in his power to try and win the game (45 points, including 18 in the fourth, to go along with 8 boards and four steals), but he did it with the same sullen disposition similar he had against Phoenix in the second half of that infamous Game 7 two years ago. I didn't hear the fans boo him during introductions, but when I heard that they did it was absoutely surreal. the fan base has always stood behind this guy, no matter what. In the studio with Charles, Kenny, and Ernie (or Ernie, Kenny, and Charles), Magic was very frank, criticizing Kobe for not being able to work it out with Shaq and management for having too many voices speaking on the matter. And he's right; the entire situation is f----d up, from Kobe on up. Magic being Magic, he was still optimistic that the Lakers would keep Kobe as the centerpiece and try to improve the talent around him; I think everyone else realizes that we've reached to point of no return with the Kobe Era, and Tuesday, with the crowd booing Kobe for the first time ever, signified the beginning of the end. Of course, then John Paxson comes out and says trade talks between the Bulls and the Lakers are over for now, meaning that they'd be opening 0-3 on top of everything else, and everyone would be even more miserable than they already are.
So what happens? They come out last night and mop the floor with a team that had completely owned them 6 1/2 months ago, against the team that I picked to win it all. It was the most impressive (and improbable) win of Phil's Second Act. I don't remember seeing a more perfect offensive performances. Bloodlessly efficient and totally team oriented, the Lakers shot 57 % from the floor and made 8 of 13 from deep. They got 67 points from their bench and no one played more than 28 minutes. They outrebounded Phoenix by 20. Against a team that plays like the hare and is led by the tortoise, the Lakers were the tortoise and the hare all night long. They were quicker and faster and smarter.
And I kept thinking to myself, They're doing this without Odom. And then I thought about Odom, and I immediatley became frustrated, as Odom is the walking embodiment of frustration. Not because he's a left-handed, 6-10 forward with long arms, athleticism, an outside shot and point guard skills. Or that he's a great offensive rebounder who's terrific around the basket, has the ability to post up any small forward in the league (remember what he did to Shawn Marion two years ago) and is unstoppable off the dribble. It's just that even if this ridiculous, nightmarish match-up problem with this inimitable skill set (most people call him The Goods but I prefer The Smorgasbord) were to wake up one morning and start using all of his considerable physical gifts and unique basketball skills to his utmost advantage on a consistent, nightly basis...the Lakers would probably still be better of trading him. He's too similar to Kobe. They're both 1-0n-1 players. Don't complement each other at all. They both need the ball in their hands to be effective. When one of them has the ball, the other one is just standing around watching. It'll never work. Kirilenko would be a much better fit. Back at his natural position, he'd give them the same amount of points while needing the ball half as much, he'd give you roughly the same number of boards and dimes, and he's give you infinitely better defense. He'd even get to show off those underrated point guard skills more often, the ones he displayed against G-State in the playoffs last year when Fish was tending to his daughter. He wanted out of Utah this summer; the Lakers should've tried to make that happen.
Trust me, this isn't about me overreacting to one game, getting carried away after the second one of an 82-game second. Obviously, no one expects them to play like this every night; this is probably still a 43-39 team that'll lose to this very same Phoenix team in the first round again this spring. I would love to think this was a young team that is finally starting to grow up, that this was a preview of what is to come this season, that Kobe will be smiling and clapping for his teammates on the bench because Bynum is punking guys around the basket, because Radman is shooting it like they pay him to, and because Sasha has become an offensive threat, and he doesn't have to score 40 for them to have a chance, but it's unlikely. I'm just excited that after last night's performance, there is some semblance of hope, hope that, to flip one of Barkley's favorite sayings, the light at the end of the tunnel isn't a train. Not only that, but in a time in Lakerdom when it seems like everything is going bad and a new era is about to begin, last night reminded me of when it seemed like the good times would never end: With the Lakers rolling over a Western Conference rival and Kobe and D-Fish playing together flawlessly in the backcourt, it felt like the 2001 playoffs all over again. Hell, Phil even capitalized on the oppurtunity to be an asshole and piss off the opposing coach, calling a timeout with less than five minutes to go and his team up by 30 (a classic Phil moment that made D'Antoni wanna kick his ass). *Refreshing sigh* Just like the good ol' days.