— FOX Sports (@FOXSports) March 10, 2016
Tonight will be the last time Kobe Bryant faces off against LeBron James. If only for this reason, this game is special. Wherever you place these two in the pantheon of all-time great players, both guys signify something special to this generation and are two of the singular talents of their respective (overlapping) eras.
This doesn’t just mean something for the fans, either. It means something for both players too. As the video above shows, LeBron has special feelings for the groundwork Kobe laid and his approach to the game and perfecting his craft. As for Kobe, while he’s feeling better with his sore shoulder, his head coach thinks he’s coming back tonight because he relishes the competition against this specific opponent.
In some ways, then, this game becomes secondary even though both teams have some incentive to do well (yes, even the Lakers — who many fans of the “tank” would hope lose). The Cavs are looking to find their stride down the stretch of the season; looking to establish themselves as not only the clear best team in the East, but a team who can seriously challenge the Western Conference winner for the title.
The Lakers, meanwhile, have won two straight games and want to build on that momentum for a strong close to a disappointing season. This is important to the young players — Russell specifically mentioned this post game after the win over the Magic on Tuesday — and to the coaches (who should feel pressure to do well down the stretch to help their chances of returning next year).
Whether this leads to a competitive game, though, remains to be seen. The Cavs are vastly superior to the Lakers in every way. And even though Kevin Love won’t play, PF is arguably their deepest position and they can simply plug LeBron into that spot anyway. So, if they are at their best, they should beat the Lakers handily. Thing is, the Cavs have not been at their best of late. They had a tougher than it should have been game against the Kings on Wednesday and have had some real ups and downs since returning from the All-Star break. Add in some natural fatigue from playing last night and the potential to play down to their competition and who knows what this game brings.
As for the Lakers, they have won 3 of their last 5 games. For a team that’s only won 14 games all year that’s sort of a big deal. This uptick in play has been on the shoulders of their young players and tonight offers a marquee match up against some of the top players who play their respective positions in the league (LeBron at PF and Kyrie at PG). I can only imagine these young guys would love nothing more than to continue to play well, especially if it also meant building up their own names at the expense of these established stars.
All of the above storylines make this game worth your time, even if the prospect of the Lakers getting blown out is very real.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on TNT. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM Los Angeles.