By Craig Kwasniewski
The starters went into *Screw You* mode in the 4th to save the day: The Lakers' second unit continues to have trouble protecting big leads in the 4th quarter. The starters built up an 18-point lead after three and they were waiting to ice down like the late 90's Bulls. Remember watching Pippen and Jordan laughing it up with those huge packs of ice on their knees as Scott Burrell was pumping his stats in garbage time? Well, the Lakers are trying to start that trend, but the second unit keeps blowing huge leads. With a lineup of Ronnie Turiaf, Kwame Brown (still trying to find his game shape and rhythm), Jordan Farmar (in a slump), Trevor Ariza (WNBA offensive skills) and Javaris Crittenton (turnover happy) the question remains: who's going to score? In this case, the Pacers cut the Lakers lead down to 7 before Jackson had to reluctantly put the starters back in. Led by a pissed off Kobe (who wanted a Jordan-esque ice down), the Lakers stormed back with a 13-0 run with three VERY SWEET D-Fish jumpers and and a very fired-up Kobe, who did a Mutombo-like finger wave to the fans after they regained control.
My favorite Andrew Bynum moment: In the 3rd quarter with the ball in the post, Bynum gets a big two-handed shove from Jermaine O'Neal. While in the lane, Bynum throws the ref a "are you gonna call that shit?" look. (The ref completely ignores him.) So Bynum gathers himself, takes a power dribble and dunks on the other side of the rim for a monstrous And-1. Not many players have that type of patience and veteran attitude in the post (hell, Kwame Brown acts like there's a 0.5-second shot clock every time he touches the ball). Mix in the soft hands, the quick learning-curve and his age and it's easy to understand why Mitch Kupchak chose Bynum over Jermaine O'Neal.
Ariza over Walton: Luke Walton brings experience and excellent offensive vision and Trevor Ariza brings athleticism, hustle and most importantly defense. So who deserves to start? The Lakers are a very good defensive team with Ariza on the floor and his energy pumps up the Staples Center, carrying the Lakers when things bog down. And Walton seems be a better fit with the offensively slumping second unit. Ariza started in huge wins over Western Conference contenders Utah and Phoenix and Jackson needs to keep him there.
I'm completely impressed with the way the Lakers rebounded from the loss to Boston: The Lakers got their asses thoroughly kicked by Boston last Sunday. Here's the difference between 06-07 and 07-08; last season that would have started a small losing streak, followed by finger pointing from Kobe. This year they bounced back with huge wins over Philadelphia (124-93) and Indiana. Granted, both teams suck, but it's the fact that the Lakers came out roaring against these teams after a brutal loss that matters. The pessimist in me is starting to believe...
A quick look at the Pacers: They played their best ball with O'Neal in foul trouble. Former Laker, Kareem Rush went into revenge mode in the 1st half, but like his Laker career, he couldn't sustain the effort. Coach O'Brien has them playing better defense and they have a few good jump shooters. But can a nucleus of Tinsley, O'Neal, Dunleavy and Troy Murphy (all locked up until 2009-10) really be considered a contender? The problem is that only O'Neal is a desired commodity. So they're locked in mediocrity until Isiah Thomas bails the out this summer (can't you picture Thomas trading for Tinsley and ONeal in June?).
I am so glad the Lakers didn't pull the trigger on the O'Neal for Bynum and Odom trade!