Tell me if you have heard this before…
In an attempt to create a super team and championship contender, a big market franchise adds name brand talent to a roster already stocked with name brand talent. That franchise instantly becomes the talk of the summer and is considered one of the handful of teams who is considered good enough to come out of their conference to earn a Finals berth. When the season begins, however, injuries, age, and a lack of cohesiveness create an environment where that team underachieves severely. And, through the first part of the season, expectations must be readjusted downward to reflect that this team probably isn’t as good as many thought they could be.
Sounds familiar right?
If you’re a fan of the Lakers, this is last season’s story arc wrapped up in a single paragraph.
If you’re a fan of the Brooklyn Nets, it’s this season’s nightmare playing out in real time.
To put it bluntly, this year’s Nets are struggling. That’s also probably completely underselling what’s going on with them right now. Through 14 games, the Nets are an abysmal 4-10. Most of that is due to the fact that Deron Williams has missed several games with a badly sprained ankle, Brook Lopez has also missed time with a sprained ankle, Andrei Kirilenko is out with a bad back, and Jason Terry has also missed time with a leg injury. Add to that Kevin Garnett has not looked like himself and Paul Pierce has been pretty up and down, and what you have is a team whose lone, big name contributor is Joe Johnson. This isn’t a recipe for success.
Further, the Nets are being coached by rookie head man Jason Kidd. Yes, the same Jason Kidd who last year played for the Knicks and who had to miss the first couple of games of the season serving a suspension for his involvement in a case for driving while intoxicated. At times Kidd has looked over his head in his transition from coach on the floor to coach on the sideline and that hasn’t exactly gone over well with a fan base who was told their team would contend with a roster that cost over a $100 million before a penny of luxury tax has been paid.
In any event, this is the Lakers’ opponent tonight. They make what happened with last year’s Lakers seem tame (that team, for comparison was 7-7 though 14 games).
As for what will decide this contest, both teams come into Brooklyn after playing last night in a different city. The Nets held on late to get a win versus the Raptors. The Lakers, as you know, could not get over the hump and lost to the Wizards in Washington. The rest factor (or lack thereof) is equal, so there shouldn’t be any concern on who is the fresher team.
No, this team will come down to the talent on the floor and while the Nets are likely to have Pierce, Garnett, and Johnson, it’s not so easy to say that Brooklyn is more talented. Especially if Williams and Lopez sit out (which is likely). Because while the Nets still have Andray Blatche and a rejuvenated Shaun Livingston, the Lakers still have a group of guys who have shown an ability to play well together even if they are less heralded.
What this game will really come down to is the Lakers’ role players showing they have the ability to put up good numbers on the road. Last night that wasn’t an issue for Jordan Farmar, but he’ll need to be joined by at least 2-3 other complementary players who can put up good numbers. Whether that’s a combination of Wes Johnson, Jodie Meeks, Steve Blake, Xavier Henry, or all of the above isn’t important. It just needs to be more than one of them. If they can do their jobs well while Pau and Hill play up to their recent levels, the Lakers have a winnable game in front of them.
The key is to jump on the Nets early and give themselves a cushion to buffer against the surge that always comes with a team playing at home. This can come through post ups for Pau, pick and roll actions for Hill, or three point shots from the wings. But it must come. Combine that with better energy and attentiveness on D (especially when defending the P&R against Livingston) and the Lakers will be in good shape. Here’s to them getting a win on the 2nd night of a back to back. Getting back to .500 is at stake and the Lakers surely want (and need) that.
Where you can watch: 4:30pm start time on the West Coast on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.