Thursday, December 27, 2007

Holiday Cheers

Let me start by apologizing to all the faithful fans of Roman's Empire. Recently, I've been the Space Cadet of the blogosphere. In other words, I've been lazy, and kinda out of it. I've thought hard about going into rehab because fantasy football has made me an emotional wreck. Knowing that Peyton Manning, TO, and LT all won't play in a pivotal week 17 final will do that to you.
But there's no crying in fantasy football so I will spare you the rest.
We have a lot to get to.

First and foremost,
I attended the greatest NBA game I have ever been to. The Christmas Day Lakers/Suns extravaganza where the Lakers played their best basketball in the last three years. Here's a quick rundown:

1. 10 highlight plays at least. Trevor Ariza's dunk over Grant Hill will be a top 10 play of the year. Kobe's 180 dunk through the lane was exciting as well. Throw in several alleyoops to Andrew Bynum and one to Ariza, and you had a lot of moments that brought the Laker crowd to its feet. Oh and by the way, Kobe just had 38 points on just 20 shots to go with seven assists. He also wished Merry Christmas to Steve Nash, who he called brother, and to George Lopez , who sat courtside. And Phil Jackson wore a Christmas Bowtie.

2. I sat in a suite with an open bar, all you can eat food (most which I could not pronounce but it was good) and a front row seat in that suite. Did I mention open bar.
Now I've always been against suites, but with the right mindset (I never missed a play and I went with real Laker fans) sitting in a suite is OK. Did I mention it was free?
I will still contend that given the choice I would take a courtside seat over a suite with an open bar any day. But believe me, I'm far from complaining about my day. This Jew had a great Christmas gift.

3. The crowd was on time. Staples Center was completely full before tip-off. There was a buzz in the air, and to throw out the most cliche saying in NBA history, there was a playoff atmosphere. But in this case it's true. The Lakers/ Suns series is developing into a real rivalry after two playoff meeting the past two seasons, and not just a personal rivarly for me, who thinks all Suns fans jumped on the bandwagon starting with the 2004-2005 season.

4. Would you still trade Andrew Bynum for Jason Kidd? In his last 9 games, Bynum has averaged 16.8 points and 11.0 rebounds per game. He's 20 years old and catches everything around the rim, no matter how bad the lob pass. He has great hands, unlike Kwame, and is still just growing into his body. He has improved every year he's been in the league (hard to believe it's already his third year) and he's second in the NBA in dunks, behind Dwight Howard.

5. Trevor Ariza's resurgence. Aside from all the highlight dunks and the joy Ariza brought to Laker fans, he was a real factor defensively in the starting lineup. Take out Luke Walton and insert Ariza, and you have five players on the floor who are at the worst average defenders. Derek Fisher might not be quickest of foot, but he's a smart and capable defender, Kobe is one of the top defenders in the league, Lamar Odom is long and alters shots, Bynum is a terrific last line of defense with his shotblocking, and Ariza can guard three positions. Finally, the Lakers have a lineup that can both defend and score.

Along came a Prince

"We're seeing the emergence of a superstar."

Those words, by ESPN's Karl Ravech, were used to describe none other than J.P. Prince at halftime of a game between Tennessee and Xavier.

Prince scored 16 points, in the first half. He finished with a career high 23 points.
Even in his first two games since he became eligible to play after transferring from Arizona, Prince put up impressive numbers. Thirteen points, seven assists, and four rebounds against UNC Asheville and eight points, seven rebounds, and two assists against Western Kentucky.

He went to his right for a layup, then on the ensuing defensive possession took a charge. You ever think you'd see that?

He has become the Vols sixth man as opposed to being the 13th man for the Wildcats.
I can't say I ever saw it coming. This is the same Prince who lacked any kind of work ethic during his time at Arizona, according to sources, but maybe Bruce Pearl's free to do whatever you want system fits Prince well.

As for the Wildcats, a big game against Memphis coming up on Saturday will be a true test to see exactly where this team stands in the big scheme of things. Memphis, a squad that is still undefeated and playing great basketball, will challenge the notion that Arizona's defense is truly improved.

And then also: My Daily news recap of the Hart Holiday Classic basketball tournament

As always, an updated Lakers +/- (through 28 games) Lakers: 18-10, 6th in West

Fisher +77
Kobe +144
Turiaf -18
Odom +80
Mihm -16
Walton +98
Bynum +137
Farmar +81
Radmanovic +146
Brown -5
Vujacic +18
Crittenton -26
Karl +5
Ariza -35

Up Next: vs. Utah Friday 7:30 p.m. PST FSN

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