From Mark Medina, LA Times: The Lakers trickled out one by one to the media appearing as excited about the Christmas Day game against the Heat as they did facing the Boston Celtics in the 2010 NBA Finals.
Read that on face value, and you’d think Phil Jackson suggested a certain Heat player has benefitted from favorable officiating, Kobe Bryant lambasted LeBron James’ hour-long special announcing his “Decision” and every other Laker wondered aloud why the Miami Heat has received more media attention than the two-time defending champion.
Instead, it featured Jackson poking fun at anyone who thinks a Christmas day game means anything. “What do you mean how to view it, like it’s a championship game or it’s a playoff game?” Jackson said when I asked him how he wants his team to view the contest since he and the team has downplayed the surrounding hype all week. “No. It’s not a playoff game. It’s a Christmas Day game. You go out there and play hard and enjoy the day after it’s over.”
From Brian Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: This year, the Lakers have no such questions of self-worth to overcome, no need to establish championship mettle. True, in basketball and the stock market alike past performance is not an accurate measure of future earnings, but the idea consecutive titles doesn’t give the Lakers flexibility to keep one game against an Eastern Conference foe in proper perspective seems like a stretch. Certainly it would for Derek Fisher. Asked after Tuesday’s loss if Saturday represents a measuring stick game for L.A., he was blunt. “No. I think it’s a big game in terms of excitement and anticipation and the marquee matchup in terms of the star power,” Fisher said. “That’s what makes it a big game. I don’t know if it’s about using it as a measuring stick. It may be different in their locker room, but in my opinion, for us, no.” The good news for fans? They hype isn’t all for naught. The game still matters, on a couple levels.
From Beckley Mason & Ethan Sherwood Strauss, The Heat Index: For these teams this game means no more nor less than any other nonconference game on the schedule. And you’re right, no game played in December necessarily gives either team a discernible advantage going into future matchups. Hindsight may inform significance, but for now, all we have are two elite teams playing a game worth one win. But I think you overlook a crucial element, and that is that this game will feature five of the top fifteen players on the planet in one 94-by-50 foot space. This in itself demands celebration. Drawing consequence from 1/82 of a season can be absurd, but what about the inherent meaning of seeing the three best wing players of the past decade on the court at one time? How about the worth of being privileged to a contest of styles between the fury of the Heat fast break against the mature elegance of the Lakers’ Triangle? This meeting is a basketball eclipse. So what if the dulling glare of the 82-game grind returns December 26th? The spectacle of this regular season ritual is worth taking in.
From Dave McMenamin, ESPN Los Angeles: The two biggest names in all of basketball today – Kobe Bryant and LeBron James — do not share a natural rivalry. One has played his entire career in the West with the Los Angeles Lakers; the other has been in the East with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Miami Heat. They have never squared off with a championship on the line, or even a playoff series, for that matter. Still, they share a fascinating dynamic. For Bryant, a competitor always looking for an edge, James is a perfect foil who plays many roles.
From John Krolik, The Heat Index: To put things simply, the “Who is the NBA’s best player?” debate no longer carries the weight it did when the Cavaliers and Lakers were rolling through their respective conferences. The Lakers have relied on Kobe less and less each season since they acquired Gasol in February 2008. Gasol was arguably playing at a higher level than Bryant for the first month of the season, and the Lakers are 21-8 despite the fact that Kobe has scored 35 or more points only once this season (and the Lakers lost that game). Considering that Bryant once averaged 35.4 points per game, that’s a pretty radical shift. LeBron, of course, decided to leave the team built for the sole purpose of maximizing his production. For seven years, the Cavaliers’ success was directly correlated to how well LeBron played, but that’s not the case in Miami. The Heat don’t need LeBron to be firing on all cylinders to win. In fact, they were leading the Mavericks after LeBron went scoreless for an entire half. There will be times when it will be in the Heat’s best interest for LeBron to step out of the way and let Wade take over, or let Bosh operate out of the high post and attack the rim.
From Tom Haberstroh, The Heat Index: As the much-anticipated Christmas Day matchup approaches between the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat, the parallels between Chris Bosh and Pau Gasol will be obvious. Both are All-Star big men who, after struggling to bring home championships for their original franchises, changed scenery as they entered their primes, joining clubs brimming with talent. What’s more, they’ve each drawn considerable criticism — no matter how unwarranted it may be – for their supposed “soft” play. Bosh and Gasol can sympathize with each other in many respects, but it’s also worth appreciating their distinct differences. Here are three:
From Dave McMenamin, ESPN Los Angeles: The team practiced longer than usual, staying on the floor for two-plus hours, and every player on the roster went through the full activities, other than injured backup center Theo Ratliff. ”We were all able to be a part of the practice, which hasn’t happened all year,” Gasol said. “Everybody was in it. That was probably the first practice all year we had that.” Added Lakers coach Phil Jackson: “It was much more running, a little more duress out there playing hard and working on some things we have to do as a team.” The practice was as much a preparation for Miami as it was a recovery from Milwaukee. The Lakers’ last game was a 19-point loss to the Bucks — their largest margin of defeat this season — and Thursday was the team’s first practice since then after an off day Wednesday. ”I told the players today, I thought their comeuppance might come against Miami, but Milwaukee delivered the blow,” Jackson said. “So maybe it got their attention so they can get focused on basketball.”
From Ryan McNeill, Slam Online: As Odom used a towel to wipe the sweat off his head, he wasn’t able to hide a grimace after playing through one of his worst games of the season. However, even while battling the flu, Odom still managed to snatch seven rebounds and scored 11 points while going an efficient 5-9 from the field. It turns out a flu has been the only thing to be able to slow Odom down this season as the points and rebounds he contributed during the win against Toronto are a far cry from the 16.0 points and 9.9 rebounds he is averaging so far this year.
From Saurav A. Das, Silver Screen & Roll: “Kobe Bryant is the greatest 15-year player to ever play the game” -Philadelphia 76ers colour commentator, during the Lakers – Sixers game last Friday. He then went on to clarify that he did not mean that Kobe Bryant was the proverbial G.O.A.T, but that no player had played as well in their 15th season in the League as Kobe Bryant was then (and, by extension, is now). At a glance, this might come across as hyperbole as Kobe’s numbers this season seem to be average (for him, anyway) at a glance, but with deeper examination the numbers present a compelling argument.