Are the Lakers Imploding?
I have an admission to make: I've been pretty bored with the NBA 's regular season. It's not that there haven't been plenty of interesting things going on in the league for the last month, I've just been more interested in getting to the 2 1/2 month marathon that is the Playoffs. But in preparation for the postseason, I re-engaged late last week. And as a reward for my rededication, the Lakers decided to make it worth my while. They're still my pick to come out of the Western Conference, but they've definitely added some intrigue to what may have been an otherwise predictable run to the Finals.
Let's recap: After losing only one game between the All-Star break and April, the Lakers got bored and gave up five straight games that they could have and probably should have won, especially since they had a real shot at overtaking the Spurs for the conference's best record. Instead, the Spurs clinched homecourt through the Western Conference Finals and the Lakers have been flirting with falling all the way to fourth. Luckily, the Spurs sat all of their players that mattered last night and the Lakers were finally able to pull out a harder-than-it-needed-to-be win in the fourth quarter. Now, they'll be either second or third in the conference, depending on the outcome of the regular season finale on the road against the lowly Sacramento Kings.
Oh, by the way, Steve Blake is out indefinitely with the chicken pox. Oh, and Andrew Bynum re-injured his knee last night and is out for tonight's game and possibly longer pending the outcome of tests on the troublesome joint. Oh, and this might be the last ever NBA game in Sacramento, so the crowd and players may be more into it than is usual for the last game of the season for a team that has nothing to play for and is 48 minutes from their summer vacation. Oh, and there's an outside chance that the league might suspend Kobe Bryant for his homophobic outburst on the bench (video below) after a disputed call.
No pressure, though, LA. Win this game and you'll probably set yourself up with a first round series against the New Orleans Hornets, who are struggling down the stretch after losing their best player. The Lakers could use the series against an overmatched opponent to get healthy and prepare for a second round matchup against a more formidable foe. Lose the game against the Kings and you draw the Portland TrailBlazers, a team that no one wants to play right now. The Blazers have the length, athleticism and depth to give the Lakers fits, especially if Bynum and Blake are out or not completely healthy.
None of this may matter. The Lakers could pull through valiantly, flip the switch like so many people expect they will, and be on their way to defending their back-to-back titles against teams that probably aren't up to the task of beating them. But I really appreciate the guys in purple and gold for making this more entertaining than it normally would be and cranking up the drama before the Playoffs begin this weekend.
Ah, it's good to be back.