Despite the absence of Andrew Bynum , despite Kobe Bryant still trying to regain his shooting touch ,the Lakers are off to a sizzling 8-0 start ,and Laker fans are over the moon.The chants of THREE-PEAT! THREE-PEAT !! are becoming louder and louder . As a longtime Laker fan myself , I understand the euphoria but I have to caution my fellow Purple and Gold supporters : The season is still young ; they ain’t proved nothing yet and lots of things can go wrong before those chants become a reality.At this point in the season it is way too early to even predict who their main rivals will be .
I am happy with the Lakers start. Pau Gasol has been terrific , Lamar Odom and Ron Artest are playing with intensity ( most nights ) , Kobe is rounding into shape , Shannon Brown has improved his outside game , newcomers Steve Blake and Matt Barnes have fit seamlessly into the offense and second rounders Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter are providing glimpses of the future. Phil Jackson seems to be giving the bench more playing time with even the rookies seeing some action. This could be because he more confidence in the bench and also because he wants to play his starters as sparingly as possible to save them for the post season.Hopefully , when Bynum returns this will result in reduced minutes particularly for Pau Gasol ; at present , he is being called on for a lot.
This is all very encouraging but it has to be tempered by the knowledge that the Lakers haven’t really played anybody yet.Their eight victories, impressive as they are, have come against inferior opposition. The Trailblazers whom they walloped last Sunday were beset by injuries and none of the Lakers other victims could be called a powerhouse. Except for that one game against Portland, the Lakers seem to play to the level of their opposition, allowing teams to hang in until almost the end. Last night’s win over a 1-6 Minnesota team is a case in point , the Timberwolves pulling to within four points with less than a minute to go.Part of it is that all teams play their best against the reigning champs and are eager to knock them off. Another part of it is that it is difficult to sustain one’s intensity, night in and night out, over an 82 -game regular season.
It is difficult at the moment to figure out who will be the Lakers chief opposition in the Western Conference. Their chief rivals from last year are either re-building ( Denver Nuggets , Utah Jazz, ) or not playing upto last year’s standards ( OKC Thunder). It’s too soon to say anything about them or about the always dangerous San Antonio Spurs.As of now , it seems that the chief worries will be the Dallas Mavericks and the New Orléans Hornets. Dallas has improved with the addition of Tyson Chandler and Chris Paul is playing superbly in New Orléans but it is difficult to imagine anyone in the West seriously challenging the Lakers in a seven game series.
In the East, the Orlando Magic are an elite team but , except for Dwight Howard, they seem to disappear when the chips are down.The Bulls play hard but , even when Boozer returns , I don’t see them challenging the other three . Ditto for Atlanta. The Lakers competition biggest threats then will be either the Celtics or the Heat but it would be a mistake to read too much into the current records (4-3)of those teams . Both teams will be far stronger come play-off time.
The Celtics looked great winning the season opener against the Miami Heat , suffered a let-down next night against the Cavaliers and lost a squeaker on the road at Dallas.They did all this while not at full strength and are perhaps the deepest team in the league. Jermaine O’Neal hasn’t given them much but Shaq has played impressively when healthy. Glen Davis and Rajon Rondo have shown significant improvement and the Big Three are playing as well as ever. In the short-term , Delonte West should provide a boost when he returns from his suspension and in January they should be even stronger when Kendrick Perkins comes back into action. With Perkins , the two O’Neals and rookie Semi Erden, and of course Kevin Garnett at power forward, the Celtics have a plethora of big men who will give Miami fits and challenge the Lakers imposing front line.
Miami was all at sea in the opener against the Celtics in the season opener as their Big Three were playing together in their first regular season game in front of a hostile crowd. They later lost to the Hornets in a game where Emeka Okafor played the game of his life , and to Utah as Paul Milsap played out of his mind.In between however , they showed what they are capable of as they thrashed the Magic. Despite lacking a good big man , they are playing terrific defense and figure to improve by leaps and bounds as their Big Three figure out how to play together. One thing that makes me happy as a Laker fan is that teams are gearing up to beat the Heat , the most hated team in the league , and the spotlight is off the Lakers. At least for now .
Whichever one of the them makes it to the finals , they are going to provide a stiff test to the Western Conference champs and it should be as intense a championship series as we had last year.
It is fun to read the Laker message boards and the Lakers blog in the L.A Times and to revel in the passion and intensity of Laker fans . I wish though that that Laker fans would stop trolling the Heat and Celtic message boards , running down the opposition and incessantly chanting ” Threepeat! Threepeat!!” This lowers us to the level of Heat supporters who are already counting their championship rings ( LOL) and Celtic fans who who are never tired of moaning about how the Lakers have never beaten a full strength Celtics team. ( ROTFLMAO). The time to celebrate is after the final buzzer has sounded and the Lakers are hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy … once again . Go Lakers !