If the Lakers themselves don’t feel like they’ve hit the home stretch yet, it definitely has to start for them tonight at home against the Utah Jazz. They owe it not only to themselves, but to us, their loyal fan base who has had to wince and grimace our way through games with terrible displays of basketball. I haven’t reached the point that some of you have yet, but I’m near the line of becoming fed up with their lackadaisical play, their inability to move the ball and their unwillingness to work hard. I’m just about tired of them becoming bored because, for the first time in my lifetime, I’m growing bored with the play from the team that I was raised to love. What the Lakers don’t see is that some of our fandom’s have been inherited from our mothers and fathers just like the players inherited their height and athletic ability. This is our team just as much as it is theirs, and it’s about time that, if for nothing else, they start playing for us.
My father passed along his love for the Lakers to me as soon before I was able to talk and he just as easily passed along his hatred for certain basketball teams, and tonight, the Lakers are playing one of those teams that I loathe. Growing up, Eddie Jones was my favorite Laker (I once, admittedly, hated Kobe because he was the reason there was no longer a need for my boy Eddie), and the only thing that kept Eddie Jones and the Lakers from a Finals meeting with Michael Jordan and his Bulls was the Utah Jazz. If I don’t hate the Jazz more than the Celtics, they’re at least 1a to the Celtics 1. The Lakers are finally back at home, in front of the people of Los Angeles who have been there supporting them since the jump. Tonight, it’s not their job, but more their obligation to dive on the floor for loose balls, get their collective hands dirty on the glass, play team basketball and run the Utah Jazz off of the floor like they could have been doing to every single team they faced on their five-game road trip.
Losses to the Jazz irk me just about as much as anything else that has ever gotten under my skin. Kobe and Co. need to understand these things about their fan base. I mean, we’re essentially the ones paying their paychecks, we’re the reason there is a market for their service and it’s about time they start giving us what we pay for. I go to school in Bakersfield, CA, the home to the most bandwagon sports fans on earth, and on one short trip across our tiny campus, four guys and one girl asked me what was wrong with the Lakers, and later that night in the gym, one of the guys said that the Lakers, with their current two-game losing streak, have been even with the Clippers in the past week. Can I blame them? Of course not, and I’ll keep the blame from the Lakers unless they lose to the Jazz tonight, at which point I might lose it.
This game is a lot bigger than just a regular season game, it’s going to measure where the Lakers are against a team that has been playing very good basketball. Deron Williams has been doing ridiculous things with the basketball, Carlos Boozer is having one of those stretches where it seems like he should be a perennial all-star and Jerry Sloan has his boys playing their best basketball of the season, and at the right time of the year. Most importantly, it’s a game against the Jazz, a team that has been pesky the last few seasons, a team determined to beat the Lakers, because just like it was in 97 and 98, we’re the team standing in their way. I’d like for them to keep it that way – and it’s the Lakers obligation to make sure they do.
LAKERS PRACTICE REPORTS:
From NBA.com: Pau Gasol pretty well summed up the team’s collective mood after Thursday’s practice, one filled with frustration at the team’s recent play but also optimism going into the final seven regular season games. “We’re happy to be back (home) … We had a good practice,” said the Spaniard. “We have a lot of tough games coming up, and we have a chance to redeem ourselves and get back on track.”
From Land O’ Lakers: I’ll have more copy and crackerjack analysis later in the afternoon, but for the time being feel free to gorge yourself on these moving pictures from Lakers practice. (Because quite frankly, I’m cranking all this out from the team facility, and if I try to finish it all from here I’ll be sitting on the 405 until after dinner.) As one might expect after a monumentally disappointing 2-3 road trip, the Lakers weren’t exactly jovial this afternoon, but neither were they despondent. Naturally, a lot of time was spent talking about frustration, and how much of it the team is feeling.
ON ANDREW BYNUM AND LUKE WALTON:
From ESPN Los Angeles: Los Angeles Lakers forward Luke Walton went through a full practice for the first time in nearly two months and is expected to be back in the lineup Sunday when the Lakers host the San Antonio Spurs. Center Andrew Bynum, however, might still be a week or two away from returning and will be re-evaluated by doctors Friday night. “Luke was back on the floor today and we’re hopefully that he’ll have a real good response to this practice and be available on Sunday,” said Lakers coach Phil Jackson of Walton, who has played in only 24 games this season while battling a pinched nerve in his lower back.
From Bleacher Report: With the playoffs rapidly approaching, and Andrew Bynum sidelined by a knee injury for the third straight year, it’s time to ask a painful question for Laker fans. If Bynum can’t come back at full strength, are the Lakers the favorites to win the Western Conference any more? There hasn’t been this much panic in Laker-land since Kobe Bryant told Stephen A. Smith that he wanted to be traded back in the summer of 2007 , and for good reason.
ON THE BENCH; SASHA VUJACIC
From The Los Angeles Times Lakers Blog: For far too long, the Lakers’ bench have had trouble securing leads, establishing consistency, fitting in the triangle offense, staying sharp on defense and pretty much living up to the supposed “Bench Mob” reputation it once owned. And the inconsistency surely hasn’t sat well with the team. Lakers forward Lamar Odom has taken it personally when the bench blows double-digit leads. Lakers guard Kobe Bryant has reacted in visible anger during the team’s recent 2-3 trip at least partly because of the reserves’ play. And Lakers Coach Phil Jackson acknowledged to reporters before the team’s 109-92 loss Wednesday to the Atlanta Hawks that the bench’s performances “makes me want to throw up sometimes.”
From ESPN Los Angeles: Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson says backup guard Sasha Vujacic hasn’t played the last two games because of “a little run-in” with the coaching staff. The run-in occurred with 9:12 left in the fourth quarter of the Lakers’ 91-75 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder last Friday when Vujacic got into a heated argument with assistant coach Brian Shaw. During a timeout Shaw was yelling at Vujacic and pointed his finger in Vujacic’s face, prompting Vujacic to point his finger back in Shaw’s face. Lakers forward Ron Artest and Lakers point guard Jordan Farmar quickly got in front of the two as Vujacic was instructed to take a seat at the end of the bench and didn’t return. Vujacic only played 2:48 of the fourth quarter in the loss and hasn’t played in the Lakers’ last two games in Houston and New Orleans.
ON RON ARTEST’S REALITY SHOW
From Kurt at Pro Basketball Talk: Just what the Lakers need: more entertainment reporters and cameras around the team and in the locker room. Not a problem, though, the team has looked so focused on the court lately… Move over Lamar Odom and the Kardashians, there is a new, bruising forward on the reality television scene. According to The Hollywood Reporter (one o the two big entertainment trade magazines), Artest has struck a deal with E1 Entertainment and Tijuana Entertainment to star in and produce a new show called “They Call Me Crazy.”
From Hollywood Reporter: Controversial Los Angeles Lakers forward Ron Artest is back in the headlines, only this time to star in his own reality series. The bad boy NBA player is to develop and produce the “They Call Me Crazy” show with E1 Entertainment and Tijuana Entertainment. The series will document the ups and downs of Artest’s life, allowing him to “make amends for past transgressions,” according to E1 Entertainment, and help develop aspiring musicians through his hip-hop label, Tru Warier, to be supported by E1 Music.
(UPDATE: I forgot to include Silver Screen and Roll’s Lakers/Jazz preview in the original post, here’s the link, click here to read.)