Tuesday night’s game against the Suns really was a fun contest. The Lakers, as they did against the Jazz a couple of nights earlier, made a very nice push in the 2nd half to seize the lead. They looked as though they would even pull out the win. But then Wes Johnson missed two free throws, the Lakers couldn’t secure an offensive rebound, Isaiah Thomas hit a shot to send the game into overtime, and a loss ensued.
Even with that loss, though, there were some good things on display. Jeremy Lin made his return and was a key contributor to that second half run that turned a deficit into a lead. At one point he scored seven straight points and remained aggressive for the entirety of his stint, looking confident and effective throughout.
And then, of course, there was Kobe.
After starting out slowly, Kobe caught fire in the 2nd half and, along with Lin, was a key player in the turnaround and a monster in the closing minutes. Kobe hit tying and go ahead shots down the stretch, each more difficult than the last. He showed a nice bounce to his step and good lift on his shot even though he was approaching and surpassing the 30 minute mark on the evening. When he subbed out with a couple of minutes remaining in the overtime, he still looked fresh enough to close out the game, but that wasn’t in the coach’s plans.
All in all, then, not a bad showing for a loss. After the game Byron Scott told his players and the assembled media that they “are close” to being the team he wants, with only a need to cut out some of the little mistakes they are making to get even better. While Scott is right — this team is playing better — we must also remember that these performances have come against team’s resting players down the stretch and in preseason games where game plans are simplified. You could counter that the Lakers are down players too and you’d be right. The overall point remains, though. The Lakers are making strides but other teams are still out ahead of them. No shame in that; this team is competing.
Which brings us to tonight. The Blazers are on the docket and bring with them an up and coming team who is gearing to build on last season’s success. Those Blazers surprised the masses by coming out of the gate on fire and then countering a (slight) second half fade to knock off the Rockets in the first round of the playoffs.
Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge anchor this team, but Nic Batum and Wes Matthews also bring strong production to help buoy their all-star duo. With Robin Lopez anchoring the the defensive paint, Thomas Robinson, Will Barton, and CJ McCollum bringing youth and energy, and former Lakers Chris Kaman and Steve Blake bringing some veteran reinforcements this team may have a deep run in them.
In other words, they will be a load for the Lakers tonight. Especially a Lakers’ team with tired legs playing in their first back to back this preseason. In saying that, here are a few things I will be interested in:
*How does Kobe do against Wes Matthews and Nic Batum? Matthews is a stout defender who does particularly well against post up guards. Batum is long, quick, and has good instincts and does well against nearly everyone. Kobe will have his hands full facing either of these two and it will be interesting to see if he can carry over his strong 2nd half versus the Suns to this game.
*How many minutes will Lin play? After the game, Byron Scott had some interesting comments to say about Lin’s playing time — notably that part of the reason he played so much down the stretch was to “give Ronnie (Price)” some rest while also stating that it would not be a given that Lin will close games. Tonight, Lin will once again start the game as the reserve point guard in favor of Price. At some point you’d have to imagine that Scott will play the better guy more minutes and actually let him start and finish games. Hopefully that point comes soon.
*More Beebop and Rocksteady, please. If you didn’t know, this is my nickname for the Randle/Davis frontcourt pairing. While it’s a small sample, these two seem to complement each other quite well on both sides of the floor. I also do not think it’s a coincidence that the team is making their 2nd half runs when this duo is on the court. I’d like to see them play more than they are. Tonight, against a very good front line would be a nice time to see if they can hold their own as the competition improves.
Where you can watch: 7:00pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.