Just because the Nets are playing a "pitiful" brand of basketball right now, doesn't mean we can't get some insights about the incoming team, right? So, it's only fitting with the world champion Los Angeles Lakers facing the Nets tonight, that we'd get a world champion blogger, Kurt Helin from Forum Blue and Gold, to answer a few questions on the NAS hot seat.
Thanks, as always, to Kurt, and the past and future bloggers who help make this column happen:
NAS: While the Lakers are off to a great start this season, do you envision them having any problems as the season goes along, maintaining intensity as they gear up to defend their NBA title in the postseason?
So far this season, the Lakers intensity has been good, there has been very little if any championship hangover. That said, every team hits bumps, the Lakers will hit one this season. I think as a fan (especially of a team in title contention) all you can hope for are two things: 1) That it's not something serious, like Kobe fracturing his finger or something (well, maybe it has to be worse than that); 2) That the team handles the adversity, bounces back and grows stronger. Remember last year the Celtics had only lost a few games by Christmas, then the Lakers beat them pretty good on national television that day and the Celtics seemed to go into a little funk after that dropping six of their next eight. That would bother me. I think as a fan what you hope to see is a team that is resilient, one that fights and scraps. We'll see what this Lakers team has when tested.
NAS: How panicked were you when you heard Kobe Bryant's finger had been fractured? Could the Lakers withstand an absence of Kobe similar to what the Celtics went through with Kevin Garnnett last year?
I'm not sure panicked would be the right word, but pretty damn concerned. I was at that game and I think the severity hit me when Kobe spoke to the media after the game and was more subdued than I have ever seen him. This bothered him, even if he tends to view these kinds of setbacks as a challenge to overcome there still has to be some frustration. Simply put, the Lakers cannot win a title without Kobe. However, what I have said since before the season is that the Lakers have a larger margin for error than any of the other contenders, they can withstand Kobe's injury better than other teams. Pau Gasol is capable of carrying the team for weeks, Andrew Bynum can score plenty and even Artest has those hot nights. The Lakers don't need Kobe at 100% to win it all, and based on what he has done the last couple games he seems able to adjust to the splint. But if he is absent the way Garnett was last year the Lakers fall to just another good team.
NAS: How intrigued are you by the Brook Lopez/Andrew Bynum matchup? While Bynum's development has been stunted the past two years with late-season injuries, both are really establishing themselves as some of the league's best post players. Who will you give the edge to?
Just for the record, I would still call Dwight Howard the league's best young post player. But this will be a fun matchup, I saw Brook play at Summer League this year and liked the growth he had shown in his game. As for the matchup tonight, I'm not sure either guy can stop the other if they get the ball where they want it. Denying position will matter. Bynum's length will disrupt shots, but Lopez has a lot of tools in the toolbox to work with.
Bynum has been in a bit of a funk lately and a variety of factors (illness, being pulled away from the basket by defensive assignments) has sapped his energy and rebounding. He still scores when he gets the ball on the block, but the bounce in his step seems gone. Bynum still plays immature at times — not terribly, but not what he is capable of — and this is one of them. If he comes out still in a fog against the Nets, Brook could have a very good game.
NAS: What has Ron Artest brought to the Lakers so far this season? After watching him for the first quarter of the year, do you envision him falling back to some of his old tricks that end up distracting the team he's playing for?
Ron Artest has brought a couple things. One is a physical presence on perimeter defense that just makes the Lakers tougher. He hustles every play, if you are his defensive assignment you have a hard time getting the ball, let alone a good shot from a spot you like on the floor. The second thing Artest has brought is a willingness to fit in on the court, to work to find his role (and he's doing that more and more). He's doing that, he runs the plays and does not break out of the mold. He's also become a reliable three point shooter.
Everyone in Sacramento and Houston and Indiana are waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the crazy Artest to return and disrupt the Lakers locker room and on the court. But I don't see hat happening. First, because he is not the Alpha Dog in this locker room — this is Kobe's team, make no mistake. And he would not tolerate antics that could damage the team. Second, believe it or not, Artest is maturing as a person. The final thing is, the entire culture in Los Angeles is different, and he fits in. Look at it this way, if he went on a national talk show wearing short shorts while in Sacramento, it would have been the biggest topic on sports talk radio and newspaper columns there for a week. His sanity would have been questioned. But here, a guy who drinks Hennessey who walks around Hollywood in his underwear is called Tuesday. You've got to do better to shock and offend us.
The thing is, the only proof of how will Artest fits in or doesn't will not come until June. Supporters and detractors of Artest can make all the points they want, it will be his play in the playoffs that will decide who is right.