Here's a little something to stoke the flames of anger and hatred for tonight's matchup. Or, perhaps it's a little something to______________________(insert your own emotions).
Special thanks to Mr. Clark over at www.silverscreenandroll.com.
W: 1. How would you describe most Laker fans feelings towards the Suns and their fans?
CC: As far as I know, Lakers fans don't have any feelings one way or the other towards the Suns team. There's not enough negative history there, and what history there is (the back-to-back playoff victories) is easily written off by mentioning names like Smush Parker or Kwame Brown. As for our relationship to Suns fans, that's a little more hostile. It seems pretty clear that Suns fans hate Lakers fans (as many fanbases do). Lakers fans feelings towards Suns fans seem to come in two varieties: The annoyed, who take pride and joy in Suns fans' misery because of the constant hostility heaped in our direction, and the nonplussed, who treat Suns fans the same as they would Kings fans, Blazers fans, or any other of a litany of fanbases for which the hatred is a one way street, by ignoring them.
W: 2. Do you feel the Laker/Suns rivalry is still indeed a legitimate rivalry? Or has recent Laker dominance kind of ruined it?
CC: Rivalry is a funny word. It means a lot of things to a lot of different people. For me, rivals require quite a few criteria: Both parties have to have a similar history of success, there has to be a history of significant games between the two, and most importantly, you can never know which team is going to be victorious in any given contest. There is a certain respect involved when dealing with a rivalry.
That's a very narrow definition, and by it, I don't think Lakers-Suns qualifies, or ever really has. The Suns don't have the history of success the Lakers have, but that's not the criteria that fails the most. What fails is the last part, not knowing which team is going to be victorious. Obviously in one game, anything can happen. But whenever the Lakers and Suns have faced off in the playoffs, one team or the other has been significantly favored, and that team has always won. There have been times when the Suns have been the dominant party, and (more) times the Lakers have been the dominant party, but there have rarely been any surprises in the matchup. To me, that's not a rivalry.
W: 3. What is new in Laker land? What is Andrew Bynums problem? Do you think they still have enough to make a deep run in the playoffs?
Andrew Bynum's problem is that he's realizing his own importance to the Lakers team and franchise, and he's taking advantage of it like a spoiled rich kid, and nobody who has the temerity to stand up to him is willing to do so. Bynum is Jim Buss's golden child, and Kobe Bryant (the only player on the team who might be able to get through to Bynum) is far too conscious of how this game played out when he was on the other side to think to ill of Bynum's antics. Mike Brown doesn't have Bynum's respect, that much is clear, so no matter what words or punishments or sentiments Brown might wish to inflict on Bynum, they won't have much effect. The kid feels entitled to act like he wants to, and unfortunately that seems to mean throwing tantrums and testing the limits of what he can get away with. Apparently, he can get away with a lot.
As for the playoffs, the Lakers are so volatile, they might be the toughest team in the playoffs to predict. I could easily see them losing in the first round. I could almost as easily see them making the NBA finals. The acquisition of Ramon Sessions has turned their offense into one of the most dynamic in the league, not because Sessions is that good, but because having that fourth explosive contributor allows the Lakers to always have two of their four playmakers on the court at the same time, and Sessions' fit with the previously moribund rest of the roster is making them all play a little bit better. Laker success in the playoffs will boil down to four things: Can Kobe avoid the terrible shooting slumps that have been off and on all season? Will the defense come back? Will Andrew Bynum be focused on doing his job? And will the Lakers get any production from the small forward spot? You can't expect all four things to work out, but it wouldn't be all that surprising if they did, and that would make the Lakers tough for anybody to beat.
W: 4. Is Mike Brown's job safe? How would you rate his performance this season
CC: Probably, at least for this season. The only chance he gets fired now or in the off-season is if a true rift develops between him and Andrew Bynum, which might force the Lakers front office to make a change to keep Bynum happy. Performance wise, Brown has been about as expected for me, but I was disappointed with his hire in the first place. He did have the Lakers playing strong defense at the beginning of the season, but the D has fallen off pretty badly in recent weeks. The offense has been bad for most of the season, but has been excellent since the acquisition of Sessions, because Ramon is the kind of playmaker Brown's offensive sets thrive on.
My major issue (and one that most of Lakers Nation agrees with) is the inconsistent rotations Brown utilizes. He likes to throw stuff against the wall and see what sticks. In a way, I feel for him, because the back end of the Lakers roster is the worst in the league, by a significant margin. But at some point, you have to define roles for your players, and I don't think he's done that very well. Plus, the huge minutes he's played the Lakers stars bodes ill for the remainder of the regular season and the playoffs.
W: 5. And Kobe...He says he hates the Suns. Do you think his hatred fuels his performance against the Suns, or is it that difficult for PHX to contain him.
CC: I think his hatred fuels the performance in that he is always likely to try to kill the Suns, moreso than he might against other teams. It's funny, because Phoenix is the one team against whom Kobe has been able to maintain a Jordan-like grudge. He associated so much of the dark period of his career with Phoenix that he wants to destroy your boys every time out. But there also hasn't been much in the way of strong perimeter defense in Phoenix to stop Kobe over the years, and when you combine Kobe's desire to go for the jugular with the lack of anybody who can prevent him from doing so, his performance is a natural result.