The Other Side: Los Angeles Lakers
As Ivan pointed out in his story today, Verizon Center will likely look and sound like Staples Center East tonight with the Los Angeles Lakers in town. The Lakers have returned to their glitzy, glamorous days as an NBA title favorite. With Andrew Bynum returing to a team that already has Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom, the Lakers have the best record in the Western Conference at 15-2 and they have the league's greatest point differential this season, outscoring opponents by 12.8 points per game.
The Lakers truly returned to their rock star days once they completed the fleecing, um, trade with the Memphis Grizzlies for Gasol. Gasol helped the Lakers finish the regular season and playoffs 36-12 with him in the lineup. The Lakers came to Washington two days after making the trade last February, but Gasol didn't play since he had been unable to practice with the team. He will actually make his Lakers debut at Verizon Center tonight.
The Lakers have faced few challenges this season, but as I reported in my story today, they will have to get tougher in order to lift that Larry O'Brien Trophy in June. Here are some other things you should know about the Lakers heading into the game tonight:
1. The Lakers Won't Win 70 Games . . .
According to Coach Phil Jackson. The Lakers are on pace to win 72 games. Ever since the Chicago Bulls went 72-10 in 1996, it has become an annual tradition that whenever a team gets off to an incredibly hot start, writers start using their limited skills in mathematics to speculate about a team possibly winning 70 games. This decade, the Detroit Pistons and Dallas Mavericks had to answer questions about 70 wins -- even though most people refused to consider that those teams didn't have a competitor that remotely compares to Michael Jordan.
Bryant has been compared to Jordan his entire career, but Jackson on Wednesday put the 70-win talk to rest -- at least for now -- saying that the Lakers won't threaten the Bulls' record this season. Not because Bryant isn't Jordan, but, well, the Lakers have the disadvantage of living in Los Angeles. Traveling in the Western Conference and constantly changing time zones, Jackson says, makes it impossible. I suppose he would know best.
2. Kobe Bryant Is Well Rested
Bryant is averaging just 25.1 points and may not finish among the top three scorers in the NBA for the first time since Shaquille O'Neal was traded in 2004 -- but you won't find the 30-year-old complaining about it. Bryant has scored more than 30 points only three times this season. He is surrounded by so much talent that the Lakers don't need him to bail them out all the time.
The Lakers' blowout wins have limited his minutes to just 33.9 per game, the lowest since 10 years ago, when he was backing up Eddie Jones.
After scoring 32 points in his Philly homecoming, Bryant got to meet former Bullet and Hall of Fame guard Earl "The Pearl" Monroe for the first time. Yesterday, Bryant said that the one NBA legend he'd love to meet is Larry Bird. Larry Bird? Didn't the Lakers meet Bird's Pacers in the 2000 NBA Finals? And they never shook hands? That's incredible.
3. The Drama Is (Mostly) Over
Remember this time last year, when people were still worried about Kobe Bryant being traded? That's almost like ancient history. With the Lakers reaching the NBA Finals and in championship contention, Jonathan Abrams of the New York Times writes that Bryant's expected plan to opt out of his contract and become a free agent next summer doesn't even cause the slightest ripple in Los Angeles.
There has been a minor war of words between Andrew Bynum and Phil Jackson. Bynum was upset that he was sat during a critical stretch of the Lakers' loss to Indiana and Jackson dismissed his comments, calling Bynum a kid who doesn't know any better. For a team that has seen Kobe vs. Shaq, Shaq vs. Phil, Kobe vs. Phil and Kobe's trade demands, this Bynum-Jackson disagreement can only elicit one response: Yawn.
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