Tuesday, December 14

Talking in L.A.

Kobe and the Gang face off against the Seattle Sonics tonight at Key Arena.
Kobe sure looks excited about the new Lakers.

With the Sonics set to face off with the Lakers for the first time this season, Kurt ( from the excellent Lakers blog Forum Blue and Gold) and I agreed to exchange views on our respective teams. - Paul

This seemed like such an easy thing when we came up with the idea: Have a person who has followed a team all season tell you Sonics fans what you can expect see when you play the Lakers. My name’s Kurt and I’m the guy behind Forum Blue and Gold, I’ve watched and blogged on the Lakers all season, so telling you about my team and what you can expect to see out of the Kobe 2.0-led Lakers should be a piece of cake. Right?

Problem is, these Lakers don’t know exactly who they are. They change personalities and styles like a high school sophomore. For example, they came into the season saying it was a return to “Showtime” and up-and-down the court basketball. Except that the Lakers actually averaged fewer possessions per game than they did last season. Or there was Sunday night, when fast-becoming-fan-favorite Jumaine Jones had 22 points and went 6-of-6 from three point range all in the second quarter. So, what do they do in the second half? He doesn’t enter the game until there is less than four minutes left in the third and his teammates don’t get him a good look at any shot until there are two minutes left in the game.

That said, with each game the Lakers seem to be maturing, getting a little better at figuring out what they want to do – the offensive sets have become less ugly – and there defense is improving. But, like our sophomore, they have a long way to go.

Here’s what we can tell you for sure: This team runs through Kobe Bryant. But you already knew this. What has been a relief to Laker fans is that Kobe didn’t turn into a taller version of Alan Iverson (taking 35 shots a night, most off balance, and making 10). There are some ugly moments, but for the most part he’s been a guy with double-digit assists of late, playing defense, grabbing rebounds -- basically doing all the little things you can want. Plus, two or three times during the game, he’s going to do one of those jaw-dropping/take-your-breath-away/crazy-stupid good plays that you’ll talk about tomorrow no matter how much you hate the Lakers.

The challenge has been chemistry -- no one started out quite sure how to fit it around Kobe. Lamar Odom is the poster boy for this. Last season in Miami the offense ran through him and he flourished, this year the Lakers can’t even consistently find a good place for him to set up, one game its on the wing, the next it’s inside, and in neither has he found a home. That said, Odom is working hard, averaging a team high 10.7 rebounds per game and is still putting up 14.4 points per game (second behind Kobe).

There have been pleasant surprises – Chris Mihm has been solid and even occasionally spectacular inside and Jumaine Jones and Brian Cook have combined to become the spark off the bench – and three point specialists – that nobody expected.

Lucky for you Sonics fans, where the Lakers may be weakest is perimeter defense. Kobe is a great defender, but for a team that is unselfish and passes the ball, there are great chances to exploit the Lakers from the outside (or on penetration, Chucky Atkins couldn’t stop penetration from the point in your local pick-up game at the YMCA). I’m curious to see the on-fire Sonics, but fear the Lakers defense is not tougher test than you’ve already passed this season. Several times.

Forum Blue and Gold

Be sure to check out my Sonics preview on Kurt's Lakers Blog.

If you run a blog for another NBA team and would like to take part in our exchange program, let me know!

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