After a four game skid of massive proportions (by the defending champ's standards), the Lakers got back on the winning side of things with an unbridled beatdown at the Sacramento Kings' expense. Does that thrashing equal a righted ship? This week provides four bodies of evidence one way or the other. As always, the results will be interesting.
GAME OF THE WEEK
Wednesday @Clippers, 7:30
My first gander at Blake Griffin up close and in the flesh during a game officially counted towards an NBA regular season? You better believe I'm stoked! There are better players in the NBA than the Clipper rookie, but graded on the scale of excitement potential, he may very well be the reigning big kahuna for The Assocation.
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Seriously, Tiago. Get out of the way.
Covering the Lakers day in and day out often leaves me with disappointingly little time to just kick back and watch other teams play on a regular basis. Even a local team like the Clippers can be a viewing challenge. Thanks to the power of Twitter, however, I never miss a Griffin highlight. Every move by the kid sends the Tweetosphere into "bananas" overdrive. Particularly his dunks, so powerful and elevated the descriptions feel cartoonish. (Think if people had more than 140 characters at their disposal.) If I didn't know for a fact Griffin was a real person, he could very well be written off as an urban legend. A Sidd Finch or Lochness monster for the 21st century Internet age. It's just impossible to thrill at such a high rate, right?
Seeing is believing, and I can't wait to believe from inside the building.
In the meantime, the Clippers as a team offer some interesting wrinkles. For starters, their improved play over the last couple of weeks. Upon snapping a nightmarish nine-game losing streak, the Clips have played .500 ball, highlighted by wins over the Hornets and Spurs. They're also playing with more fire and solidarity, evidenced by the ejections for Brian Cook and Craig Smith (among other dustups) during Sunday's loss in Portland.
There are also lineup considerations. Will a tweaked ankle prevent Chris Kaman from suiting up? Will Baron Davis usurp rookie Eric Bledsoe as the starting point? (I hope so. "The Beard" may the A-Lister, but I think Derek Fisher matches up considerably better against Baron than the fleet-footed rook.) And if recent pairings against the Xavier Henry's of the world have left Kobe Bryant, shall we say, uninspired to exert his full defensive attention, a date with Eric Gordon -- assuming the assignment doesn't fall to Ron Artest -- should provide the polar opposite effect. Between his staggering improvement and the injury bug's vendetta with Brandon Roy, an argument can be made Gordon is the best two-guard in the western conference without an ankle insurance endorsement deal. I can't imagine Kobe won't attempt to pull out all the stops on both sides of the ball.
Tuesday vs. Wizards, 7:30 pm PT
As I mentioned earlier, "Game of the Week" honors were awarded to the Clippers in part because of the Griffin factor. Along those same lines, the Wizards earned closely contested runner up honors purely due to John Wall. Griffin's prime competition for Rookie of the Year has already recorded a triple-double and is firmly entrenched in the top-10 for assists. I can't wait to see this kid up close and in person. Or perhaps more accurately, not see him. I don't know the exact number of players faster than Wall with the ball is, but I'm positive the list is shorter than the one LeBron created this offseason.
While the "quick guards KILL the Lakers!" mantra sometimes ventures into myopic hysteria -- opponents often can't prevent Derek Fisher from attacking the lane, for crying out loud -- penetration by quick guards is undoubtedly problematic at times. Stopping Wall will require a group effort starting with the backcourt and ending with the bigs.
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Preventing Wall from terrorizing the lane requires a group effort from the Lakers.
By the way, remember in 2006 when Gilbert Arenas dropped 60 on the Lakers in front of a house of family and friends? The most charismatic performance in Staples Center basketball history not fueled by Kobe Bryant or Shaquille O'Neal? Well, that's also the last time the the artist formerly known as Agent Zero has actually battled the Lakers in his hometown. Five flippin' years! Man alive, dude has lost serious chunks of his career to injuries and inappropriate jokes about firearms.
Friday @Bulls, 5pm PT
The meeting at Staples Center was probably the most entertaining game of the year, so here's to hoping the Chicago version will maintain the high standard. At the very least, the presence of Carlos Boozer should keep things interesting. Even as someone admittedly not running for President of Booz's fan club, I'd never deny his talent on the offensive side of the ball. His game logs also reveal a player gradually rounding into form, providing a glimpse of how he could help Chicago make some noise in the east.
But until proven otherwise, Boozer also remains an All-Star perennially owned by the Lakers. Whether matched against Lamar Odom or Pau Gasol, the last couple of seasons (and especially the playoffs) have been harsh for the Dukie. Perhaps better fortunes will be enjoyed paired alongside the force of disruption that is Joakim Noah, but for the time being, I don't consider the situation threatening.
Sunday @Nets, 10am PT
I'm always fascinated by games featuring a player in his first game against a former team, particularly when the baller in question either parted on bad terms and/or spent several years with that other squad. Sometimes, like with LeBron James in Cleveland last week, the player offers a master class in shredding his former employer. And like the case of Trevor Ariza battling the Lakers last season, we also see guys so geeked to prove what was left behind, the performance turns emotional to the point of detrimental.
In the case of Jordan Farmar, this will be his maiden voyage against the purple and gold, until this year the only professional franchise he's ever known. And while I wouldn't say the goodbye was purely acrimonious, I think it would be fair to say both parties had grown weary of each other. In and of itself, this could spark interesting psychology, but when you dig a little deeper, the particulars are quite intriguing.
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Will Jordy light up his old team or play outta control?
Farmar will spend much of the contest mano y' mano with Steve Blake, the veteran signed to replace him before terms with the Nets were even met. He could also get checked at times by Shannon Brown, who required less than half a season on the 2009 roster to leapfrog Jordan on the list of young guards the Lakers were committed to developing. (In a purely coincidental but nonetheless fun wrinkle, Shannon was also drafted one spot ahead of Farmar in 2006.) There's a chance Farmar could do battle against Derek Fisher, the old man serving as his mentor and road block to a coveted starting gig. Matt Barnes also replaced him as the team's Bruin representative, if arbitrary reasons to feel competitive are being sought.
Interestingly, a "Farmar v. Sasha Vujacic" pairing may offer the biggest potential for fireworks. It's also unlikely to reach fruition, given that The Machine plays only slightly more often than me. But on paper, this could be a seriously tense showdown. Consider how often it looked like they wanted to kill each other while working as teammates. As honest-to-goodness opponents, Farmar could end up the American Goran Dragic. It's a long shot showdown, for certain, but if there is foul trouble for the Laker backcourt or garbage time featuring Farmar, get your popcorn, people.