Enemy: Los Angeles Lakers
Coach: Mike Brown
Potential Starting 5: Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard*
Other Key Players: Antawn Jamison, Jordan Hill, Jodie Meeks, Steve Blake, Devin Ebanks
Threats: Scorers, Experience, Balance, Long-range shooting
Grizzlies 2011-12 Record vs.: 1-2
Let me start things off by saying I am completely aware of the acquisitions that the Lakers made this offseason. However, I still chose to use a picture of a lonely Mamba for this preview. Why, you may ask? Aside from the fact that my girlfriend would surely punch me if I didn’t, there is a real reason and it is quite simple. This is still Kobe’s team. It will be Kobe’s team until the day he steps away from the game. Maybe even after, for that matter. You could put all the Steve Nashes, Dwight Howards, Pau Gasols that you want on this roster, but the team will go as he goes. This is not to say that a re-tooling wasn’t in order. Just over two years removed from their last finals triumph, the Lakers have undergone a real crash of the wave that they were riding, with their past two campaigns punctuated by abrupt playoff exits. Most recently, their defeat was at the hands of the Thunder. Essentially, OKC was able to pummel the Lakers by simply running them off the floor. The lack of athleticism has been a matter plaguing their team for years. So in response, the Lakers shipped out the promising but plodding Andrew Bynum for the return of potentially the most athletic true center the sport has ever seen. While the recent back surgery complicates things a bit, Dwight Howard will more than likely provide the link that will extend the Lakers’ relevance beyond the Kobe Bryant era. Additionally, the Lakers were feeling the heat to reinvigorate the fan base with some excitement, in light of cross-town-rivaling Clippers’ recent revival. This offseason, the Lakers made a few other moderate adjustments to address some other gaps in the lineup, as well. The trade of Lamar Odom to the Mavericks left a pretty glaring void off the bench, which they penciled in Antawn Jamison as a hopeful to fill. Another understated loss that the Lakers incurred last year was letting Shannon Brown go via free agency. New addition Jodie Meeks was brought aboard to alleviate these concerns, and while he lacks the quicks and hops of Brown, he brings a much greater deal of offensive efficiency.
With all this new talent in tow, the naysayers and evil straw men have been adamant that Kobe is going to have an issue adjusting to the fact that the ball must be distributed, and will go through Steve Nash’s hands to do so. While it holds true that Kobe is used to operating with the ball in his hands, it is necessary to note that he has done so largely out of necessity. Looking at the underwhelming list of guards with whom he shared the stage since the short-lived stint of Gary Payton elucidates the fact that there has not been a great deal of facilitative ability to speak of. I’m talkin’ Smush Parker, Sasha Vujacic, Derek Fisher, etc. Anyways, Kobe has been around the block and is smart enough to recognize that Nash knows a thing or two about how to run an offense. Any complaints he may have should be offset by the number of easy looks that he’ll be on the receiving end of as a result of Nash’s elite court vision. It is also appropriate to mention that there has been talk of Eddie Jordan implementing a version of the Princeton offense, which factors in admirably with the pieces they have. Something else to keep a look out for is how Pau Gasol will handle what figures to be an increased workload on the offensive end, especially before Dwight returns to action. Speaking of Dwight being likely to miss a bit of time brings me to my favorite piece of the Laker puzzle to talk about. Every team needs a couple grind guys and Jordan Hill is just that. Hill has had tangible, though inconsistent opportunity to prove himself in his respective stays in New York and Houston, but judging by his emergence on the glass during the playoffs, he may have found a home for himself under the Hollywood lights. One has to wonder if throw-in to the Howard trade, Earl Clark, can have a similar realization when his number is called.
Like their hometown counterpart, the Lakers will be an interesting play for the Grizz this coming year. It may not be the most impactful matchup on the floor, but the ever-captivating Gasol brothers storyline is always a pleasure to watch, even if they don’t directly square off against one another. Despite differences in size and style, Randolph and Howard affect the game in similar ways when it comes to the bottom line, as do Ron Artest (I really prefer not to call him by his “real” name) and Tony Allen. In terms of starters that leaves us at Rudy and Conley for us, and Kobe and Nash for the Lakers, which doesn’t seem to stand in our favor. Sometimes, however, the whole is not equal to the sum of the parts, and with our engines tuned just right, the tables can be turned on any given night. With the potential for dynamic game-changing off our bench as opposed to theirs, I’m going to put faith in that being the case. The Lakers will be very good, as usual, but we’ve got plenty up our sleeve to play a darn good hand against them.