Lakers / Fakers: What is one to make of this team ? Sometimes they look like the world champion Lakers ; quicksilver passing , thunderous dunks, tenacious defense. Other days , they are the Fakers; unable to hit the outside shot, hoisting up clanger after clanger , throwing passes away, tentative on defense. On Christmas Day, before a national TV audience , they get blown out at home by the Cavaliers. Then they win six in a row , mostly because of some last second heroics by Kobe Bryant. Then with Kobe ineffective because of various injuries, they nip the Mavericks in Dallas. One sided loses to the Spurs and Trailblazers are followed by a drubbing of the Clippers. The bench doesn’t play well on most days but, against Orlando, Shannon Brown scores 22 and and Jordan Farmar 11 . They bail out the Lakers on a night when Kobe’s injured hand impedes his shooting and Andrew Bynum is felled by an upset stomach.One never knows from one night to another which Laker team is going to show up.
In past years, the knock on the Lakers was that they were soft ; that they backed down against physical teams. That is certainly not true of this team . Kobe, Ron Artest and Pau Gasol come to play every night and they play hard and the others try hard too. The problems seem to be the bench and Andrew Bynum. Odom, Farmar and Brown are all highly unpredictable. Odom gets consistent minutes and ,with Phil Jackson riding him constantly, is playing better of late. Farmar lives and dies by his outside shooting ; when his shot is falling the rest of his game clicks to. Ditto Vujacic. Brown is the most athletic of them all and he is a delight to watch when he is on. Andrew Bynum is the biggest question mark. Perhaps because of his season ending injuries in successive years he still seems to play tentatively. This is his fourth season and he is putting on muscle but he doesn’t appear to be as dedicated to improving his game as one would like. His offensive moves are fine but his defense is spotty.He plays well against the lesser centers but the more accomplished centers ( Dwight Howard ) or the more physical ones ( like Kendrick Perkins) he seems to be intimidated easily. When is he going to take his place among the elite ? On the one hand, he is only 22 and he is coming off serious injuries . On the other hand, his improvement is at a standstill. One problem is that the Lakers appear to have too many big men. With Gasol /Odom also clogging the middle, there is not much scope for Bynum to operate. Earlier in the season, I couldn’t understand how some Laker fans could call for Bynum to be traded. Now, I’m beginning to understand somewhat. Bynum would fetch a quality point guard,( at present a glaring Laker weakness) , and other considerations; but how can you make a trade that might come back to haunt you for the next 10-15 years ?
Today the Lakers start a long 8 game road trip during which they play some tough teams including Cleveland (tonight), Boston and ….If they manage a 6-2 record on the trip that would be great; even 5-3 would be good, given the injury to Kobe’s shooting hand.
Yata, Yata, Yata : Did you watch the incredible finish to the Cleveland- Utah game this past week ? The Jazz appeared to be in big trouble with the Cavs playing well and LeBron at his best. Then things got worse as Deron Williams went down with an injury and the Jazz had to turn to a little used guard named Sundiata Gaines. All Gaines did was move the ball crisply and score 9 points in the fourth quarter, the last coming on a buzzer-beating three pointer that gave the Jazz a one point win. Rarely have I seen such excitement from jaded pros. When Gaines’ shot went in, he was swarmed by his teammates as if they had won a playoff game. Gaines is so little known that ESPN had to show explain his background. Sundiata ( Yata to his teammates) is a 6-1, 195 rookie from Georgia , a recent addition from the Jazz’s D-League team who was playing on a 10-day contract. He was born in the U.S Virgin Islands which explains his unusual name.
After his heroics, one would expect that nice things would immediately happen for Gaines. If this was the movies, he would become immediately become a starterand get a big fat contract after he led his team to the NBA title. Real life, alas, is quite different. Since the game against the Cavaliers, Gaines has barely seen any playing time . In last night’s impressive win over the Spurs at San Antonio, Gaines was DNP ( Did Not Play ) – Coach’s decision. He did however get another 10-day contract and I hope he gets a real chance to show his skills . Go , Yata ! We’re rooting for you.
Gaines ‘experience illustrates one of the facts of life in the NBA. The higher you are drafted, the more chances you get. Unless he proves an absolute bust, a first round pick will get chance after chance even if there is a talented second rounder waiting in the wings. The team has so much invested in their higher picks that they don’t give up on them easily. It is difficult for a second rounder to break in and as for a free agent or a player from the D-League , it’s almost impossible.
Trashtalkers ; A SI poll of 173 NBA players resulted in the following being chosen as the best ( worst? ) trashtalkers in the league. 1. Kevin Garnett ( 62%) 2. Kobe Bryant ( 7% ) 3. Rasheed Wallace ( 5%) 4-5 Nate Robinson , Knicks, tied with Paul Pierce ( 3%). Kevin Garnett’s selection as the top trash talker is no surprise . He is always talking, yelling , screaming and most of his rant is profane . At times, he appears to be demented. No argument about the others, though I thought Rasheed would be the runner-up to Garnett. Mildly surprised that LeBron didn’t make the list ; also Eddie House.
Teams on the Rise : No surprise that Oklahoma City, Charotte, Memphis , LA Clippers and Sacramento are on the rise.In Oklahoma, Kevin Durant is going from strength to strength , Russell Westbrook complements him nicely and the Thunder drafted well in picking James Harden and trading to get Eric Maynor and Jeff Green. Charlotte has come out of nowhere ;Gerald Wallace is playing great and the trade for Stephen Jackson has been a catalyst. Memphis too has a good young core in O.J.Mayo, Zach Tandolph and Mike Conley and Marc Gasol is coming into his own ( almost 15ppg, 10rpg ). He’s built more sturdily than Pau and once he gets his older brother’s smarts, watch out. The Clippers and the Kings are currently below .500 because they’ve been hard hit by injuries so we can’t expect much from this year . But if Blake Griffin makes a full recovery and is even half as good as his advance reviews, the Clips will be tough next year. Likewise the Kings who are loaded with front court talent and the probable Rookie-of-the Year Tyreke Evans. What they lack is a big man in the middle and it appears they are in the process of acquiring one while trading away one of their plethora of forwards . Sacramento’s GM should be a shoo-in for Executive of the Year. Another team I should mention is the Portland Trailblazers who are are 26-17 inspite of losing center Greg Oden for the year and inspite of injuries to PG Brandon Roy, C Joel Przy illa and SF Travis Outlaw. The Blazers always play hard and will be heard of in the playoffs… please don’t let it be against my Lakers!
With still a month to go for the trading deadline , it would be foolish to make any predictions about who will win the championship. It’s certain that the contenders will make every effort to improve themselves . Cleveland in particular will be going all out to give LeBron some support and it will be interesting to see whom they land.
P.S: Watched last night’s game between the Lakers and the Cavaliers and , obviously, I was wrong about the Lakers being tougher. The way the Cavs manhandled them was scary; and they did it without Mo Williams, too! I was particularly disappointed with Ron Artest who was ineffective against LeBron. Ditto Andrew Bynum against Shaq, though that was not unexpected.Except for Kobe, the rest of the Lakers played as if they were thouroughly intimidated. The Lakers had better get tougher soon or it will be a repeat of the 2007-08 finals against Boston.