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.
The Western Conference's Pacific Division now looks almost as it has the past several years. The Lakers are in first place. The Clippers standing in second looks a bit odd, but the real point here my friends is that the Suns are trailing the Lakers. We are used to it, it's a fact of life for now.
Tonight the Lakers invade the desert for a matchup with postseason implications for both squads. Of course, this game matters much more to the Suns than it does to the Lakes. Nevertheless, we can expect no sympathy from our neighbors to the West, especially Kobe, who has professed his hatred of most things Phoenix.
While the Lakers have their share of issues (namely Andrew Bynum), they have won four of their last five, including an "away" game versus the Clippers. Say, that reminds me, I haven't complained about the fact that half of the Lakers games against the Clippers aren't road games at all. It's a different court, yeah, but ... Never mind ...
The time for excuses is over for the Phoenix Suns. Grant Hill, who would normally help "guard" Kobe Bryant, is out. How the Suns plan to slow the hater is a mystery. Says Mr. Paul Coro: "The defensive duty to handle Bryant probably will fall largely to starting wings Shannon Brown and Jared Dudley and perhaps Josh Childress off the bench. Bryant averages 28.1 points and has scored 48, 36 and 32 in three previous meetings this season with the Suns," which was pretty much what I was thinking. I mean, you aren't going to expect Robin Lopez to handle the job.
Aside from curtailing Bryant's dominance (while praying to the NBA gods for a sudden onset of a stomach bug), the Suns have other worries. Namely the effects of a second night of a back to back. Oh, and then there are the Lakers' other players, Gasol, Bynum and the newly acquired Ramon Sessions. To steal a little snippet from Mr. Lowe at SI, Sessions has helped out the offense, while not helping on the defensive end:
Lakers have yielded about 109.5 points per 100 possessions since the trade deadline when Sessions sits and about 103.9 when he's on the floor. The first mark would rank dead last in the league, and the second would rank among the bottom ten defensive teams.
Keys to Victory
In the last matchup in which the Suns sauntered away victorious, Kobe Bryant dropped 32, but he also missed a lot of shots, and he gave the rock away to the tune of 10 times. I don't expect the same type of futility tonight. The Suns will have to throw a bunch of different defensive looks and players at him to keep him in check.
As for the rest ... the Suns have to flat out play. Attack Bynum, force him into whiney foul-prone mode. Gortat and Lopez played 34 and 13 minutes respectively last night. Both will need to step up huge -- ATTACK the Laker bigs. If the problem last night was lack of offensive execution (41% FG), well heck man, EXECUTE. Channing Frye is always an easy target when discussing problems with the Suns inability to score. So, I'll take some aim ... Frye needs to find his stroke tonight. Hit some from outside early on, draw the L.A. bigs out and let Lopez and Gortat do their thing.
You know Shannon Brown will be motivated tonight in facing his old squad. Chipping in on the defensive end will bring back old memories for both Brown and Bryant: "Ain't no different in a practice than in a game ... we went hard all the time. It's definitely a difficult task," Shannon said.
I suppose I could have saved everyone some time by just stating, "the Suns need to come out and play one of their best games of the season tonight," which is pretty much what needs to happen.
"Offensively, I have to attack because I know he [Bryant] likes to attack a lot ... on the road, he's a lot more aggressive. Hopefully, we get an early lead and try to contain him the best we can."
GAME DAY LINKS
Somebody has got to explain to Bynum that his temper tantrums are getting more costly at this point in the season. Baby Bynum's selfish ways again put his emotions before the team. There is no excuse for these continued outbursts. Coach Brown can't keep down playing these problems. It is only a matter of time until Bynum's immature antics invade the locker room.
Lowe is also right that the defense has suffered since Sessions was acquired. As I see it, there are four likely reasons why the defense might be suffering:
Ramon Sessions is a bad defensive player
1. The increased offensive output has allowed the Lakers to build big leads and therefore caused them to relax defensively
2. The Lakers are tired, and defensive intensity is the first thing to go.
3. Andrew Bynum is Andrew Bynum
Upon further review, the Lakers asked the NBA to take a closer look at three plays involving the Clippers' Blake Griffin.The league's response: They were all called correctly with the exception of the forward's third-quarter shove from behind on Lakers counterpart Pau Gasol on Wednesday, which was changed to a flagrant-one foul.
HERE'S HOW THE STANDINGS STAND AT THE MOMENT:
MEMPHIS (5) 97-HEAT 82...Straightouttavancouver.com:
Yet, tonight's biggest impact came off our bench. Zach Randolph once again played the role of super-sub with 14 points and 14 rebounds. O.J. Mayo chipped in 10 of his, and Gilbert Arenas had it going from deep. All five of his shots were from beyond the arc and he drained 4 of them. Overall, seven Grizzlies reached double figues in points. This balanced attack was a sharp contrast to the Heat, who saw their Big 3 combine for 60 of their 82 points.
PORTLAND 99-DALLAS (6) 97...www.blazersedge.com:
Raymond Felton pounds the Mavericks in places they didn't know they had, pushing the Blazers ahead of the Mavericks after a slow start. Dallas' comeback in the fourth quarter forces overtime but LaMarcus Aldridge hits a fade-away to win the game at the OT buzzer.
UTAH (9) 104-GOLDEN STATE 98....www.slcdunk.com
Woo! Jazz now need 7 more wins for playoff contention!
The Utah Jazz defeated the Golden State warriors in an epic battle tonight. Well, maybe not epic. 'State was playing with two of their best players, and somehow Nate Robinson shot the ball 10 times. So, it was the Jazz game to win from the outside. Warriors Head coaching calling crunch time plays that ended up with Andris Biedrins taking jumpers gets you exactly the result you are looking for: a loss.
HOUSTON 112-LAKERS 107...www.thedreamshake.com
Chandler Parsons was a second round pick. Marcus Camby was acquired for a second round pick. Luis Scola was acquired for a second round pick and Billy Spanoulis. Goran Dragic was had for a guy playing in China right now (and a first round pick on top of that).
And yet, this ragtag group manages to pull off amazing wins against teams with much more pedigree than them. And in this one, the Rockets did what they do best, closing out a great win against a team that had gotten used to slamming the door on them.