By Craig Kwasniewski
The 2007-08 Kobe reared his ugly head tonight, continuing to be a nonfactor down the stretch as the Lakers 104 lose at home to Orlando 104-97. I'm not at the point of saying that Kobe's tanking games, but in crunch-time he's not the unstoppable offensive force that he was during the 05-06 and 06-07 seasons. The 07-08 version plays the role of facilitator and the Lakers suffer in close games. Seriously, when's the last time that Kobe took over in the 4th quarter and led the Lakers to victory? Anyone? Bueller?
Anyway, here's a few more takes of what I saw from my seats high up in Section 316:
Stan Van Gundy is a very good coach: I'm not adding "great" to that statement because he hasn't taken a team to the NBA Finals yet (though I'm pretty sure he'd lead the 2005-06 Miami Heat there if Pat Riley wasn't such a glamour/attention whore). The Orlando Magic are clearly one of the top teams in the NBA. So is it because of Rashard Lewis and his asinine contract? Is it Adonal Foyle? (BTW - I had no idea he left Golden State. I thought they signed him to a lifetime contract. Wasn't he the only player there without a record? Didn't they need someone to make charity appearances?)
Anyway, a combination of Van Gundy's coaching (he's a hell of a defensive coach) and the Magic front office have made them legitimate contenders. Quite simply, the Magic surrounded Dwight Howard with jump shooters with excellent range and slashing ability to spread out the defense. Howard's low post game is good enough to merit constant double teams enabling the Magic to get crazy wide open jumpers (especially Lewis and Turkoglu whose length, range and handles fit well in Orlando). I see them being legit NBA title contenders in 2 years when Howard nears his potential. Their only weakness right now is lack of quality depth at the bigs (sorry Adonal) and their point guards are a little shaky. I'd really like to see how they stand up to an experienced and well-balanced team like Detroit. (BTW - They lost to them back on November 2nd.)
Andrew Bynum does not know how to play help defense: When guys like Hedo Turkoglu and Keyon Dooling are running layup drills, you have a serious problem. Until Bynum learns how to play proper help-side defense, opposing teams will continue to attack the rim with reckless abandon. Dooling's a friggin' Clipper reject for crissake and he threw down a monster dunk in the fourth quarter with no defensive resistance. The Lakers perimeter defense deserves 30% of the blame (feel free to drop off a little on your man if he's quicker), but Bynum needs to use peripheral vision move his damn feet.
The return of Brian Cook: "Booooooo!!!!" Here's a conversation I had with the guy sitting behind me:
'Why are you booing Cook?"
"Because he sucks ass!!!"
"Well yeah but..."
And that was it, the guy behind me was sold. Maybe it was the conviction in my voice, maybe it was how loud I booed, who knows? But seeing Cook in a Magic uniform... good times.
Dwight Howard can dominate without making a splash in the box score: 17 points and 8 rebounds aren't that impressive for a talent like Howard, but his presence still dominated the game. The Lakers focused defensively on shutting down Howard's post game, leaving wide open shots for the likes of Bogans, Redick, Turkoglu and Lewis, who hit just enough jumpers to pull out the win. The difference between good players and great players is their ability to pull out W's on off nights. Tonight, Howard's size and strength drew fouls and wore down the Lakers.
Audible F-Bomb moment: The one time I forget to bring my binoculars (very necessary for the 316, especially for Laker Girls) and America's favorite young actress/coked-up party-girl/recovering substance abuser/coked-up party-girl/recovering substance abuser (again) makes an appearance at Staples Center. Yep, Lindsey Lohan was spotted on the jumbo-tron sitting courtside. Without the nocs, I wasn't able to see if she was either: a) the hot, voluptuous red head version or b) the coked up, wafer-thin blonde version. She seemed like "A" with blonde hair, but I really needed the binoculars just to check for things like "residue" or if she's packing that water bottle or other thongs... I mean things.