Thursday, January 24, 2008

Lakers face crucial upcoming stretch

There's little use in delving into the details of the Lakers/Spurs game last night. Like Tim Duncan said in his postgame comments, "It was a tale of two halves." The Lakers played well in the first half, then did the opposite in the second half, and lost 103-91 in what the LA Times called missing a great chance. Kobe let the game come to him in the first, then forced shots in the second. Kwame Brown was Kwame Brown, aka really bad, aka a team low -23. Ronny Turiaf was Ronny Turiaf, aka energetic, efficient, and effective, aka a team high +13. Phil Jackson was Phil Jackson, aka oblivious to the above stat.

The main topic of discussion should be the Lakers upcoming schedule. In the span of about a week, the Lakers went from being first in the West to 6th in the West. That's how wide open the conference is. The top 10 teams are separated by a total of 6 1/2 games. The top five teams are within 1 1/2 games of each other. So what does that all mean?

If the Lakers go on even a small losing streak, they can not only fall out of a good playoff spot, they can actually fall out of the playoffs completely. Even with how well they've been playing early in the season. The Jazz who are currently 24-18, and are out of the playoffs in the West would be the No. 4 seed in the East.

The Lakers play at Dallas, a Cleveland team that always gives the Lakers fits, the Knicks, and then at Detroit, before going on a 9 game roadtrip. The good part is most of the games are against the weak East and the Lakers have actually been good on the road, 11-7. But there is no doubt about it, this stretch will be crucial to make sure the Lakers don't suffer the same fate as last season.

Have you noticed Lamar Odom is becoming the enforcer?
He committed several hard fouls last night including one in the final minute and a half when he decked Tony Parker. And I mean decked. You could argue, upon watching the replay that he was a.) not going for the ball and b.) intentionally trying to send a message.
Odom also decked Ray Allen in the loss to the Celtics, inexplicably. But that's what I like to see. The Lakers could use that kind of toughness. Some might think it's a cheap shot, but in the 80s it was commonplace. It's like the shot that Robert Horry took on Steve Nash in the playoffs last season, and completely changed that serious around because the Suns overreacted.

So nice, we'll do it twice:
In the latest bracketology, Arizona is projected to be a No. 8 seed and face Purdue. Or in other words, exactly repeat last season.

How good is the Pac-10? Ten of the first 33 picks in the 2008 NBA draft are projected to be Pac-10 players, by That's almost 1/3 of the draftees, in one 10 team league. All the other five major conferences have 14 combined.

In all 15 Pac-10 players are projected to be drafted. The only thing scarier about the Pac-10 is next year's potential draft class. expects 5 of the top 13 players in the 2009 draft to be Pac-10 guys.

Did you know? That in the last 18 seasons, the Western Conference has had the No. 1 pick only five times. And one of those times was the Clippers selecting Michael Olowokandi, so that doesn't really count. So how come the East has been so consistently bad for a decade?

You know its bad when Clippers make fun of the Knicks:

"I would only make deals to help our future -- anything else is suicide. Anything else and you become the New York Knicks. Now if you want to do that and take on big contracts and long-term deals to potentially hit a home run or get some kind of turnaround, that's not the direction I would go as a businessman or if I owned the team."

--Mike Dunleavy Sr.

This will be the only time I ever talk about tennis:

But I had to post this because I wish all or at least most top athletes would act and talk like this. In today's age of athletics, James Blake is a breath of fresh air.

The following is part of an answer Blake gave to a reporter who asked how much he will regret never getting past a Grand Slam Quarterfinal.

"I think I still have a newspaper clipping of when I was about 12 or 13 years old, when I was -- I think I was the Athlete of the Week in the Connecticut Post. It said in there that my dream is to play in the U.S. Open. Not to win a round, not to get to the second week, not to win, it was just to play in it. I've surpassed that a little bit now.

A lot of people would think that every time this happens it seems normal to me now. Every time I walk out on Arthur Ashe Stadium it doesn't seem normal. It seems like I'm still living a dream. I'm so happy and proud to be there. I know how much sacrifice has gone into it and how hard I've worked. I don't ever want to lose that feeling of it being abnormal. I know how abnormal my job is. I know how surreal my life is. I know how lucky I am to be here."

Must read: This is the saddest story I've read in a long time.

As always, an updated Lakers +/- (through 40 games) Lakers: 27-13, 6th in West

Fisher +145
Kobe +258
Turiaf +71
Odom +135
Mihm -16
Walton +121
Bynum +236
Farmar +119
Radmanovic +144
Brown -57
Vujacic +27
Crittenton -38
Karl +4
Ariza +5
Mbenga -2

Up Next: at Dallas Friday 5:30 p.m. PST KCAL

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