The Lakers play the Warriors tonight in Oakland. This is, normally, bad news. And while it still is — we will get to that in a moment — let’s start with the good news first so we can all have a nice feeling wash over us before feeling the crushing weight of reality bathe over us like getting the first 2 numbers of the Powerball last night only to see the rest of the numbers be wrong…
As it stands, the Lakers are on a longer winning streak than the Warriors. That would be one to zero. The Lakers beat an undermanned Pelicans team on Tuesday while the Warriors lost last night to the Nuggets in Denver.
Second, and related, the Warriors played a game last night on the road an likely did not arrive into Oakland until late night/early morning today. The Denver airport is not close to the Nuggets arena — another reason, besides the altitude, they have a homecourt advantage is that additional travel time tacked onto flights to get to downtown to team hotels and the arena — so the Dubs could be a little tired. Meanwhile, the Lakers arrived in Oakland on Wednesday and will surely be more rested.
Lastly, the Warriors may continue to rest some players. Last night Draymond Green did not play and it has been reported he may not play again tonight. It has also been reported that Shaun Livingston and Iguodala may be rested at some point soon, too. This may happen as early as tonight, but that is not confirmed. An undermanned Warriors team is still better than the Lakers, but missing Green, especially, turns them from a historically great team to “only” really outstanding. That drop off may seem small, but every peg you drop a team down matters.
Okay, now for the bad news: The Warriors should still win this game going away and the odds are it won’t be close. Kobe Bryant may not play, which likely hurts the team on offense (though likely helps on defense). The Warriors have not lost at home in nearly 40 games and they seem to raise their game a notch — especially down the stretch of any game which is in danger of being a loss — and their crowd usually finds a way to pick them up at the right moments to help turn the tide/boost the Warriors’ play.
Regarding matchups, the Lakers really do not have a single advantage across the entire roster. Add in coaching and the Warriors are simply a notch above in every head to head. For the Lakers to somehow pull out this game, several players will need to play at their ceiling while multiple Warriors will need to play well below their season norms. Anything is possible, of course, but possible is not likely.
That said, I will be at tonight’s game in Oakland as a fan (not covering it as media), so none of above quite matters to me. Well, almost none of it. I would like Kobe to play, even if only for a few minutes since this is his last trip to Oakland. Which leads me to a slight tangent about how this season is playing out, Kobe’s health, and some recent comments from Byron Scott.
It’s easy to say that Scott is the head coach, and if he really wanted to he could just bench Kobe. That does not appear to be the reality of the situation though. The Lakers organization, from the top down, seems to have signed off on Bryant essentially getting to dictate when he plays and how much he plays in his 20th season, both due to business reasons and a sense that all of the success that Kobe has brought to the franchise has earned him this right.
That may end up being a decision that leads to Bryant finishing the season due to an injury rather than the long, raucous, and tearful standing ovation he deserves on April 13th at Staples Center when the Lakers wrap up their season and Kobe’s career, but it’s the decision that has been made.
This is who Bryant is. The tenacity that led to him playing through countless injuries earlier in his career is the same stubbornness fueling him to now literally laugh at the idea of sitting out a few games to give him a better chance to finish the season standing.
I pretty much agree with all of the above. I’d add that it’s hard for me to untangle the following thoughts:
- When it’s Kobe’s last season, how do you manage him wanting to play with what might not be in his best long-term health interests?
- How do you separate “long term health” with the fact that this is his last season and “saving him” really means getting him to his final game of the regular season and nothing more.
- How do you balance being bad and knowing that some are watching games solely to see Kobe play one last time with the understanding that playing him can cost him future opportunities to play in front the fans that are only watching to see him?
I wish I had good answers here. I do not, though. As I’ve written before, there is no blueprint on how to manage this particular player, on this (bad) team, in a season we know for certain will be his last. I’d tend to side with Gary Vitti here and sit him down. But, if you scroll up, I also just said I wanted him to play as this might be the last time I see him live in the capacity of a fan.
We all have our self interests here. Kobe, coaches, the front office, ownership, fans. All of us. That will influence how we think this should be handled. While I think it’s easy to see the number one goal as keeping Kobe healthy, I also wonder how much leeway you give the player to say “eff that, I’m playing” when he knows that this is all that’s left. I do not want to overdo an analogy, but it sort of reminds me of an old person whose had health issues, but now at the end of the line decides “I’m eating, drinking, and doing whatever I want” because they know there’s not much time left.
Is it really on someone else to tell Kobe “but this isn’t good for you!”, when 1). he probably knows that and/but 2). we know he probably doesn’t care?
In any event, I’ll be watching tonight. Maybe Kobe plays. If he does, I’ll be giving him a standing ovation and cheering him on.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on TNT. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM Los Angeles.