I can't remember the last time I was this excited for a regular season game. Since the Suns were even rumored to be getting Shaq, I was already looking at the schedule.
It was the last meeting of the season between the Pacific division's top two teams in what is becoming a rivalry close to the Kings/Lakers of the early decade.
But it was more than that.
There was buzz for this game. It wasn't just NBA fans who were excited, it was the casual fan. Shaq, Kobe, Steve Nash. Those names resonate with everyone. The Lakers and the Suns, two big market teams with bigger than life characters.
Mike Wilbon called it the "game of the season."
And better yet, it delivered, and I'm not just saying that because the Lakers won. Maybe since the writers strike is over, someone made a script for this game.
The NBA is back, as Magic Johnson would say. What else can you ask for in a game? Highlight dunks, blocks out of nowhere (as in Kobe's block on Boris Diaw when he came from the other side of the basket) and blocks that you saw coming a mile away, (like Amare Stoudemire and Shaq's blcock on Vlad Radmanovic). The stars shined, the pace was fast, the scoring was high.
The West has 10 good teams and even in the regular season every game matters.
As that one announcer, whose name escapes me, would say, "if you don't like this, you don't like NBA basketball."
I've said this time and time again, but I feel it's worth repeating. We are lucky to get to watch Kobe Bryant play basketball. Forget that everyone told him to get surgery on his pinkie. He just brushed it off, scored 41 points on just 25 shots, making 16, and was unstoppable in the fourth quarter. Nice defense by the way by Raja Bell and that red bocce ball he had on his head after Shaq's elbow knocked him out cold.
"Know you can do it, don't think you can," Bryant told his teammates before the game, according to JA Adande. "We're a good team. We deserve to come in here and win."
No one measures up to Kobe's mix of skill and competitiveness. The atmosphere resembled that of an NBA Finals series, yet Kobe was unflappable.
And his new sidekick, Pau Gasol, with Spanish flags and Gasol jerseys everywhere, during his home debut against the Hawks, wasn't too shabby Wednesday against the Suns either. He had 29 points on 13-19 from the field.
You want to talk about chemistry? How bout Sasha Vujacic jumping into Pau's arms after his And 1 dunk gave the Lakers a seven point lead late in the fourth quarter.
This is what I have always loved about the NBA. The game's best going up against each other, the fans excited, cities talking to trash to each other. We've seen this in football and baseball, but the NBA has been the third wheel.
In the offseason, people wanted to talk about the referee scandal and the NBA's thug image. Ron Artest this and Latrell Sprewell that. I don't hear anyone talking bout bench clearing brawls or gambling anymore. There are just too many good stories. The All Star game was successful, the NBA put on a charity "clinic", if you will, in New Orleans, the new "Big Kid" won the dunk contest, and the NBA is becoming fun again. There are too many good players and good teams to dwell on the negative.
I can't express how I elated I am by the circumstances or how anxious I am to watch the rest of the season and the playoffs. Not since the Lakers first title in 2000 have I been this pumped up about the NBA. The Warriors are 33-21 and would miss the playoff if they started today. Practically every game in the West will have playoff implications.
You think the Bulls are kicking themselves right now? Hmmm, can we change our mind about trading Luol Deng?
I never thought Kobe and the Lakers would actually part ways but five months ago, I couldn't have imagined the luxury the Lakers are living in now. Kobe appears to be finally happy.
For one, Kobe is intelligent. He speaks multiple languages including fluent Italian and Spanish. Part of the reason he and Shaq didn't get along was their upbringing. Shaq could relate to the "struggle" and to living in the "hood."
Kobe could not. His teammates now are more like him. Don't look at the skin color. They're international, from Ronny Turiaf to Dj Mbenga, from Radmanovic to Vujacic, to Kobe's new main boy Pau.
Pau went to medical school for a year. He's bright not just when it comes to basketball. Kobe understands Pau's past better than he understood Kwame's past. Although I'm not sure anyone can understand anything about Kwame.
By the way, you think Memphis' marketing department is thrilled they can make big bucks off Kwame Brown jerseys?
- I was a little shocked that Laker fans booed Mike Bibby in the Hawks game. Apparently the hatred from his Kings days has carried over.
- Shaq's debut was about what I expected. Fifteen points, nine rebounds in 29 minutes looks a lot like his stats in Miami. It was his first game in a month and he has better teammates so expect those numbers to rise slightly but don't expect the Shaq of old.
- The Lakers were badly outrebounded 46-33, and 16-7 on the offensive glass, but don't expect that to be the case with Andrew Bynum back in the middle.
- Lamar Odom quietly had another outstanding game. Odom had 22 points and 11 rebounds, and led the Lakers with a +11.
- The Lakers won the season series vs. the Suns 3-1, meaning they own the tiebreaker if the two teams ended the season tied, as they are currently.
- The Lakers are averaging 126 points a game in their last two games.
- Jason Kidd, Shaq, and Mike Bibby all lost in their debuts after being traded.
- I hope you guys are enjoying the blog, or at least like correcting my mistakes. You can check out more of my stuff on the national lampoon sports blog or splog. I'll be posting on there about three times a week.
- If you don't like NBA basketball, how about girls' high school basketball? Check out my Daily News article on City Section top seed Chatsworth.
As always, an updated Lakers +/- (through 54 games) Lakers: 37-17 2nd in West
Up next: at LA Clippers Saturday 7:30 p.m. PST FSN and KCAL