We did a question and answer with The Lakers Nation earlier this year that inspired a lot of back and forth. Most of it had to do with Lakers fans' unhealthy obsession with the potential of Andrew Bynum. I'd say it borders on what we wanted out of the Twin Towers, and to date they have gotten a lot less out of it, but think they have more. That said, Lakers fans are among the most passionate out there, even if that brings with it some delusions. I have to be fair though, if my team won a championship or even got there about once every few years I'd be the most pompous fan you've ever met.
Jonathan took some time out to give his three reasons the Lakers will win tonight. And while I agree that they will probably win the game, I think it's clear I only agree about reason three as to why:
- The Lakers Defense
According to Kevin Pelton on Basketball Prospectus, The Lakers have the best defense in the league thus far. I know, we've played some not-so-great teams like the Blazers, the Nuggets, and the Clippers (twice!), but the system in place is at it's most venerable is when dribble penetration and good ball movement happens, and with Ron Artest in your line up, I'm not too worried about the Rockets having sparkling ball movement for much of the time he's on the floor. (although Aaron Brooks is excellent at dribble penetration, and T-Mac, like Kobe, is consistently overlooked as one of the better passers in the game, and from what I've seen of him is one of those rare superstars that is willing to make the pass to the assist guy, instead of only making the assist pass.)
- The Yao Ming/Andrew Bynum Match up
Yao Ming is going through an offensive slump, and is looking even slower than usual. he's not quite at the Big Z level of foot...speed, but he's definitely Charles Barkley to Big Z's Dick Bavetta. in November he's only shooting 20-54, and that's including his decent 6-12 shooting 16/9 with 5 blocks performance against the Clippers (if the entire league can discount the Laker's fast start this season because they've played the Lakers, I can discount Yao's good game against them too)
Normally, from what I've seen of the Rockets this season and last season, teams will usually sandwich Yao, with a big fronting him and either another big or small coming with a hard double to complete the sandwich and try to force a turnover. Bynum may be the only big in this league who has the length to play in between Yao and the Basket, and also the strength to push him further out of the paint. Dwight Howard is too short really to do that effectively, and Camby just doesn't have the strength. Also, Bynum is decidedly quicker than Yao, and the Laker's recent proclivity towards fast-break instant offense means Bynum could be looking at a lot of easy points tonight, and may actually outplay Yao for the first time (i think) in his career
- Kobe Bryant
Lebron James has gone for 41 twice, STAT's reached 49, Tony Parker reached the "double nickel" as they call it. Kobe's season high is 33 in 4 games. . .yeah, we'll see how long that lasts .He may not break 40 tonight, but the man is a ticking time bomb, the league will be reminded at some point that when it comes to scoring, nobody does it better, and in more ways, than Kobe Bryant; the Rockets just have to pray that he doesn't do that against them tonight.
(on a slightly tangential note, the fact that Kobe isn't No. 1 on this list shows you how much the Lakers have improved over the last two years. replacing the likes of Brian Cook, Kwame Brown, and Smush Parker with Derek Fisher and Trever Ariza, along with former starters Luke Walton and Chris Mihm being reduced to cameo roles shows how far this team has come since the 2006-2007 season.)
Jonathan's Prediction? I've got the over/under for a Lakers victory at 7, and I'm taking the over.
Here is my response:
I think tonight, the game goes to the Lakers, however, if the Rockets do win, it will be because of these three things:
The Rockets Defense
As a leading defensive team in the league for multiple seasons in a row, the Rockets know how to defend every team in the league well. Last season we held the Lakers to 93, 93 and 92 points, with the differences in the games being our ability or inability to score. With Shane Battier out, the team has suffered a bit. Not because Artest isn't an even better defender, but because he is a different type of defender. He is a gambler, and once the team can fit into that mold with him, it will be awfully hard to score on the Rockets. And even with this, and playing Boston at home, Dallas and Portland on the road, the Rockets are allowing only 89 PPG. The Lakers are allowing 85, but against lesser competition and Portland at home. That's not to take anything away from the Lakers who are playing like the best team in the league right now, it's just to give a bit of perspective to those numbers. For the Rockets to win, they are going to need to hold the Lakers to around 92 points again.
Yao Ming vs. Andrew Bynum
Even with a struggling Yao Ming, his offensive numbers dwarf those of Bynum. Yao also seems to step his game up against other top centers, or even up and comers. His career numbers against just about everyone in the top 8 in the league at the position are phenomenal. I'm still not convinced that Andrew Bynum is the next Shaq, but I do think he has potential to be great. I just don't see how you can look at his Marcus Camby like numbers and think he's as good as Lakers fans tend to think of him. That's not saying that he can't get there, he can, but he's in no way there yet. The guy has double digit points once this season, and has played more than 28 minutes once. I'm guessing he wasn't needed and with an ailing shoulder they kept him out. But 0-1 shooting versus a team with no center in Denver is not impressing me. I know that Lakers fans are going to read this and go off the deep end and think I'm knocking Bynum, but I think it's obvious I'm just not willing to take what I see I actually see on the court and make such a huge leap of faith. On the plus side, if he does get there, the Lakers got an absolute steal of a contract.
As I have not seen every single game, or even half of them, that Artest has played against Kobe, I can only look at the numbers. It doesn't look like he has slowed him down too much. A lot of that has to do with the teams he's been on and their inability to balance out his gambling with help defense. And while the Rockets aren't all the way there yet, they are 90% better already than any team he's been on in recent years. I think you'll see an inspired game by Artest tonight. He knows why he was brought to the Rockets and he desperately wants to prove his worth. Tonight, I believe he will.