Game On: Lakers @ Hornets

Published: December 29, 2010

You know it is a big game because the “Banner Man” is back up and it is just in time, as the Hornets are coming off of perhaps their worst loss of the season to face the two-time defending champion LA Lakers. The Lakers are also coming off a somewhat embarressing loss to the Spurs. The fact that they lost to San Antonio isn’t embarressing, but the fashion in which they were defeated, combined with the post game comments from Phil Jackson, Kobe Bryant, and some of the players are concerning for Lakers fans.

Our own Joe Gerrity did a Q & A swap with tonight’s opponents. Check out Forum Blue and Gold for Joe’s answers to their questions and look below for their answers to our brilliant preguntas:

1. Do you think the NBA in general is better off with the Lakers and Celtics being seemingly always near the top of the standings, or would the league by better off with more parity on a yearly basis?

Depends on what you like, and likely where you live. For more casual fans of the NBA, or fans in cities that also have decent teams, high profile, juggernaut squads are a positive. They draw interest, create a connection and tradition, and so on. Should you root for teams in Minnesota or Sacramento, it probably gets old to see the Lakers win every year. (In the case of fans in Sacramento, I know it does.)

But the NBA isn’t yet baseball, in terms of a big market/little market have/have not situation. Sustained excellence isn’t simply about being in a big city and spending a lot of money. Just ask the Knicks, who have tried it for years. Good management is much more important. It’s why the Lakers (big market) and Spurs (smaller market) have been so successful. Not to sound like a honk for the hometown team, but the Lakers have always been willing not just to spend but to take risks and make bold moves in an effort to win. Mitch Kupchak has done great work around the margins with smart trades and signings over the last few years, from the acquisition of Shannon Brown and Trevor Ariza to smaller signings like Matt Barnes. They have the freedom to acquire and keep superstars like Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol (a trade coming totally out of the blue), but without the other moves, to fill out the roster, they likely don’t win at the same level.

San Antonio has done much the same, parlaying a little luck (landing Tim Duncan off their only awful season in memory) into sustained excellence, and without the ultra-high payroll. Oklahoma City has drafted and traded well, and is in position to win for years. It can be done.

Plus, seeing the Lakers and Celtics near the top is a relatively recent phenomenon. Not for the Lakers, but up until a few years ago, the Celtics were terrible. The Knicks have only recently become competitive again. The best teams in the league over the last few years haven’t been the classic big city, big franchise groups, save the Lakers. Going back to L.A.’s first string of titles, the big rivals were in Portland, Sacramento, and San Antonio. There isn’t necessarily tons of parity, but I’m not sure the problems are necessarily institutional.

2. Where do you stand on the best point guard debate? Does Derek Fischer’s bling make him the king?

Fisher fills a particular need very specific to the Lakers. Initiate the offense, be a trusted outlet for Derek Fisher, and provide some serious guidance and inspiration in the locker room, as well as a willing late-game shooter. He’s ballast for Kobe, who, despite developing a more collegial leadership style in the last few years, is still an intimidating, dominating force in the team dynamic. Fisher has Kobe’s respect, which allows him to provide a sort of moral conscience for the Lakers.

It’s that sort of stuff- the intangibles, really- where Fisher has the most value… which is good, because the on-court product- tangibles, if you will- probably makes him one of the worst starting point guards in the league measured by pure production. (It should be noted the team’s system and on-board star power means they ask virtually nothing of him from a statistical standpoint beyond hitting spot up jumpers. Plus, the triangle doesn’t lend itself to gaudy assist numbers for PG’s.) The irony of Fisher is that he’s consistently pilloried for his defensive shortcomings, when from my perspective his offense more frequently hurts the Lakers.

Fish doesn’t finish at the rim very well, nor pass artistically off the dribble, but still likes to take it to the rack a few times a game. Periodically, he’ll fall in love with the pull up jumper in transition, a terrible shot for the Lakers generally and for Fisher specifically, because he’s not exactly Steve Kerr. This year, after a red hot start, Fisher has cooled off from the perimeter, and historically he’s a very ordinary three point shooter, and at 40 percent for his career, not a high percentage shooter generally.

Defensively, he does struggle to guard quicker point guards on an island, but who doesn’t? I once asked Aaron Brooks if he had the quickness to guard Aaron Brooks. He said no. So to get on Fisher for the same problem seems silly. He’ll struggle on the pick and roll, which reflects not just his own shortcomings but the team’s as well. Meanwhile, he’s probably their best transition defender, consistently falling to the right level to break up plays, or taking charges.

He can absolutely be exploited on that side of the ball, but often fits in well with what they do on that side of the ball. Is he a great defender? No, but the damage he does is overrated.

3. Looking around the rest of the West, is there any team that you fear more than the rest?

San Antonio is scary, given their depth and skill. Dallas is as well, assuming this recent injury to Dirk isn’t bad. Oklahoma City should only get better as the season goes along and Kevin Durant overcomes his slow start.

I don’t trust Utah quite yet and the Lakers have absolutely owned them in the postseason, but they’ve obviously played well. Still, right now the scariest team for the Lakers is the Lakers. By squandering a stretch amounting to the easiest schedule in the NBA, L.A. has effectively eaten away most of its margin for error. Over the last two seasons, they’ve led the Western Conference at this point in the season. Now they’re chasing Dallas and San Antonio, are neck and neck with Utah and OKC, and still have a very burly schedule ahead of them. Among their 51 remaining games, the Lakers will see about 34 playoff or near playoff teams. As opposed to 12 or so in their first 30 games. Big difference.

When they play up to their full capability, they’re the best team in the west, no question. But most teams don’t do that, at least not consistently. The Lakers need to get more out of Ron Artest, who hasn’t been good, more consistency out of Pau Gasol, who has slumped after an MVP start, better defense, better ball movement, and so on. It can/should happen, but there’s work to do.

4. I know the Hornets fans will kill me for this, but how do you think a guy like Chris Paul would function in the triangle offense? Would it restrict his game to a fault, or enable him to showcase his strongest skills while avoiding his relative weaknesses to be exposed?

I actually asked this question of Brian Shaw a few weeks ago, though in reference to Steve Nash. Still, CP3 actually comes up, and the basic principles are the same: How to take a ball-dominating guard who absolutely crushes people in the P and R and put him into a system heavy on ball and player movement designed specifically to avoid one guy dominating the ball.

His answers are pretty interesting, but in short he says it can work, though said PG would have to be willing to adjust his game to accommodate what the Lakers do. Players as smart as CP3,Nash, Deron Williams (or Kobe, or Jordan) can always thrive in the triangle, assuming they’re willing to learn and run it. The offense would open up plenty of perimeter shots for Paul, plus great lines to penetrate and kick off the dribble, or just finish at the rack. His raw assist numbers might suffer (all PG’s seems to see a drop once added to the system) but he’d likely thrive in other ways. And the coaches will tell you the P and R is part of the system, so that’s not anything to worry about. The Lakers certainly use it a ton with Kobe and Gasol.

With good players around him able to take advantage of his skills, Paul would continue to be great.


Other News and Notes:

– I have trained for years to remove emotion and become purely rational, so I am not torn between my heart and my head on this one, but rather my head and my head. One tells me that Kobe will be mad after missing 13 straight last night and by being insulted by his coach and he will take it out on us. The other one tells me that this might be the time of the season to catch LA and they are struggling right now. You can really apply logic to both sides: either the Lakers and Kobe come out angry and look like the Champs or pouty, whinny Kobe sulks his way through 48 minutes and mails it in. Tune in to find out!

– Despite the Hornets being 13-3 at home, LA looking horrible last night, and the Lakers being on the second night of a brutal back to back, Vegas favors the Lakers by 2 in this matchup. What’s more is that gamblers are loving the Lakers in this one, with over 90% of the money being put on LA either minus the points or straight up.

– Hornets 2-5 in the last 7 meetings against LA.

– Lakers have lost 3 straight games this year. They have only had a 4 game losing streak twice in the last four years.

– Lakers are having tons of problems with quick point guards this season and CP3 has killed the Lakers at home over his career, averaging 23.8 PPG and 11.6 assists. West is also typically strong against LA, so the question is WHO ELSE will show up? Perhaps the Banner Man??!? If so, give props to its creator- Dariusz Ejkiewicz.


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