December 24, 2007
We would much prefer to see the Suns take on the Spurs, or Mavericks, or Pistons, or Celtics; but the NBA hasn't given us a Kobe-less Christmas (the lockout year excluded) since he entered the league, and with Los Angeles at 17-10, pitting the Lakers against the Suns doesn't seem like too much of a reach. The teams have faced off in the first round of the playoffs for two years running, Phoenix took it both times, so this matchup isn't as egregious as another Laker/Heat pairing, or the disaster that will be the Heat/Cavaliers game that precedes this one.
Los Angeles is playing defense this year, the team is getting solid contributions from its veteran core, Kobe isn't having to do as much (which is good, because he's looked a little gimpy at times this season), and the youngsters are playing quite well. Andrew Bynum (once again, one week older than OJ Mayo) has performed like a dominant force at times in his third year, the young shooters are finding the bottom of the net, and sans Smush Parkter, the Laker defense has vaulted up to a semi-shocking ninth in defensive efficiency, after finishing 24th in the NBA during 2006-07.
That said, the Lakers are coming home from a long road trip, they'll be about 48 hours removed from finishing up a game in New York before tipping off at 5 PM Eastern at the Staples Center in El Lay, and the Suns are humming. Midway through the third quarter of Phoenix's win over the Raptors on Saturday, Steve Nash's crew had just two turnovers. Two! That's after scoring 85 points in the game's first 30 minutes.
So this is the sort of game that will likely reinforce the fair-weather fan's Kobe Bryant stereotypes: the Laker youngsters might be a bit off after returning home from a tough (though successful) road trip, jet-lagged, weary from family responsibilities, and nervous with the ABC klieg lights in attendance. This means Kobe might have to go nuts for the Lakers to stand a chance, which means he'll shoot 31 times, and the whole of America can go to bed that night, full of Christmas cheer, and safe in the knowledge that Kobe Bryant is still a ball-hog.
He's not, but it makes you wonder if the NBA - scheduling a nearly impossible win for Los Angeles in its showcase nationally televised game - might not want it that way? That said, this one will still be heaps more entertaining than the usual Christmas Day dreck the NBA has provided for us over the last half-decade, so let's appreciate the baby-steps sent in the right direction.
Phoenix: 19-8, 96.3 possessions per game (5th), 114.1 points per 100 possessions (2nd), 107.8 points allowed per 100 possessions (15th).
Los Angeles: 17-10, 95.5 possessions per game (6th), 111 points per 100 possessions (8th), 105.5 points allowed per 100 possessions (9th).