The Final Countdown: Your guide to the second half
The first 52 games are in the books, and have (injury to Andrew Bynum aside) been quite the success. It's hard to do better than the best record in the league, after all. But there is still work to be done, with 30 more regular season games before the postseason kicks off. How will it play out? I'm glad you asked. Without further ado, I present your guide to second half Lakers basketball...
Feb. 17 vs. Atlanta: For reasons I can't determine, Mo Evans receives a smattering of boos. The blog is
filled with "Someone box out Al Horford!" but Kobe and Co. use a strong fourth quarter to put the Hawks away. Win! 43-10.
Feb. 18 at Golden State: With the deadline looming, the Warriors play distracted, undisciplined basketball, losing assignments defensively and taking questionable shots. Unfortunately, this kind of thing is indistinguishable from how they play under normal circumstances. Ronny looks sad. Win! 44-10.
Feb. 20 vs. New Orleans: With the trade of Tyson Chandler to Oklahoma City, the Hornets will officially look to defend LA's length with... Hilton Armstrong, Joe Smith, and Melvin Ely. Chris Paul wonders why George Shinn hates him. Win! 45-10.
Feb. 22 vs. Minnesota: Oscar night! This one wins "Best Game on the Schedule That Looked Moderately Dangerous Before Al Jefferson Blew Out His Knee." It's a small category. We're left with 48 minutes to hope Kevin Love makes a full court chest pass and dissect the ugly quotient of the Target Center floor. Win! 46-10.
Feb. 24 at Oklahoma City: Trap game! The Thunder (ah-ah-ah-ah-ahahah)! are an increasingly more effective team, and with the addition of Chandler have more frontcourt oomph. That's a handy thing against the Lakers. But the Lakers are smart enough to know it's a trap game, so it may not be a trap. But then again, the Thunder know the Lakers will know it's a trap game, and will adjust their performance accordingly. So many levels. Like the Battle of Wits in The Princess Bride. Win! 47-10.
Feb. 26 vs. Phoenix: Phoenix is back to their run and gun style. Raja Bell tossing up corner threes, Boris Diaw moving the ball from the high post-- Oh wait. Well, at least they have Steve Nash and Amare Stoudamire (maybe) to run the floor without a lumbering post man to clog thi-- oh wait. Win! 48-10.
Feb. 27 at Denver: Back end of a back-to-back, high above sea level, against a team that seems to be overlooked despite a (as of Tuesday) .680 winning percentage. Chauncey Billups has added order and presence on the perimeter, 'Melo has raised his game, and Nene has solidified the middle of a defense that had all the interior strength of a cherry cordial. These Nuggs guys play some D, folks. A tired Lakers squad falls behind early, then is put away by a strong fourth quarter from the home team. Loss. 48-11.
March 1 at Phoenix: Shaq continues his strange quest to suck up to the Lakers, picking up a quick offensive foul for dropping a shoulder into Pau Gasol, than sits after drawing a second, reaching on Gasol at the other end. After it's over, he describes pregame hype about the Suns trying to beat the Lakers as a "marketing ploy." Win. 49-11.
March 6 vs. Minnesota: Nothin' there to keep the Lakers off the boards. Lakers push early, throw it in cruise control, and we spend the rest of the night fielding comments about why they're only up by 13 when it should be 25. Still, plenty of time to debate if Kevin Love's chinstrap beard is more Backstreet Boys or N'Sync. Win! 51-11.
March 9 at Portland: The Blazers are a different team at home than on
the road (i.e. much better). Here's where that "three times in a
season" thing I mentioned comes into play. Brandon Roy does his thing,
supplemented by solid work from Travis Outlaw. Lakers look disorganized.
Second straight loss on the road to a quality opponent. Chattering
classes begin chattering. 51-12.
March 11 at Houston: Early in the season, I'd have pegged
this one for a loss. Now? I'll say T-Mac is still out, and the Lakers
will run Yao into foul trouble before beating on Houston's miniature
frontcourt like this guy on a drum. Kobe seeks to gain revenge on Michael Lewis by converting 23 field goals, all dunks. Win! 52-12.
March 12 at San Antonio: Again, a tough game on the wrong side of a back-to-back. A statement game against a team that's been around the block too many times to worry about making them. A repeat of LA's last trip to AlamoVille- tight throughout, great finish- but a late put back for Pau Gasol gives LA the victory, as they continue to rise up for marquee matchups. Win! 53-12.
March 15 vs. Dallas: Lakers dominate, Mark Cuban turns an unhealthy shade of purple. Win! 54-12.
March 17 vs. Philadelphia: The Sixers can run, but not like LA, and the Lakers won't spoil their last homestand for a while with a clunker. Win! 55-12.
March 19 vs. Golden State: Heading into the second half, the
Warriors have won five games on the road. Tonight, though, they buckle
down. They play hard, D up, show patience on offense, and Corey
Maggette distributes the rock. I'm also starting at power forward for
the Lakers. And then I wake up. Win. 56-12.
March 21 at Chicago: (Side note: Andrew Bynum doesn't make the trip, but his rehab is progressing.) Only LA's fourth Saturday game of the season as the Lakers start their last major road trip of the season. The weirdness throws off their internal basketball clocks, and the Bulls steal a win in a truly lackluster effort from the purple and gold. Laker fans are sour, weekend happiness scuttled. Loss. 56-13.
March 24 at Oklahoma City: With two days in between games, fatigue isn't an issue. A few too many alley oops to Chandler, and his length along with Kevin Durant and Jeff Green has Thunder fans buying rose colored glasses in bulk... but LA gets back on the winning track. A smart, disciplined performance, especially refreshing given LA's tendency to play down. Win. 57-13.
March 26 at Detroit: Kwame Brown goes off for 29/17 in his best game as a Piston, displaying a full range of low post moves and featherly light jumpers from 11 feet. Or not. Detroit's struggles continue, but at least Kobe puts on a show for locals depressed by the state of the auto industry. Win! 58-13. (Photo: Gus Ruelas, AP)
March 27 at New Jersey: They finished the first half five games under .500... at home. That's just not natural. And teams that don't defend a lick tend not to do well against the Lakers. Plus, there's nothing intimidating about Izod Center. That little alligator doesn't scare anyone. Win! 59-13.
March 29 at Atlanta: A critical game for a Hawks squad
looking to lock down the four seed in the E.C. Lakers build up a big
lead, then let Atlanta back in the game, missing key free throws before
Joe Johnson hits a buzzer beater. Blog circuits overload, Ben the Intern hospitalized from exhaustion. Loss. 59-14.
March 31 vs. Charlotte: Plus? LA wants revenge. Minus? It's the sixth game of a long trip. Plus? Pushing for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference doesn't mean the Bobcats are actually good. Minus? That was true during the Great OT Debacle as well. Bottom line: No way they lose to them again... right? Win. 60-14.
April 1 at Milwaukee: The final game of the epic trip. The Lakers are tired. Of hotels, of airplanes, of room service. They're physically present, but mentally drained from travel and watching a local Laverne and Shirley marathon after the late arrival from North Carolina. The final "Seriously, they lost to those guys?" loss of the year. 60-15.
April 3 vs. Houston: (Side note: Andrew Bynum has again resumed practicing.) Ah, home cookin'. Win. 61-15.
April 5 vs. LA Clippers: In a move to generate extra revenue, Mike Dunleavy's wardrobe is made available to the Pantages for a revival of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Win. 62-15.
April 7 at Sacramento: Used to be you said the Kings were better than their record. Now they may be worse. Sacto's record could be a near-mirror of LA's, and the building will be half-filled with 24 jerseys. No let down. Win. 63-15.
April 9 vs. Denver: Tight affair until a late K-Mart T gives LA the momentum. Melo plays strong for three quarters, then misses a couple late as the Lakers smother him defensively. George Karl wishes he had one more purely offensive outlet, wistfully remembers Von Wafer's days in Denver. Lakers pull it out late, keeping up with Boston and Cleveland over in the E.C. 64-15.
April 10 at Portland: Bynum dresses, plays nine minutes. Portland is fighting to hang on to the fourth seed in the conference, while the Lakers have the top spot wrapped up. Fans who haven't seen playoff hoops in a while are fired up for what looks like a potential second round matchup. Lots of emotion, and the Blazers squeak one out as a Kobe jumper late rims out. Great game, but a loss. 64-16.
April 12 vs. Memphis: Bynum back in street clothes as a safety measure. Win. 65-15.
April 14 vs. Utah: Bynum gets a little more burn, and the Jazz (now healthy and safely in the top eight), locked in the five spot, take it easy and get their starters some rest. A typical Lakers/Jazz slugfest it ain't. Win. 66-16.
So there you have it. Go ahead and take a vacation, spend extra
time with the kids, or take on major home improvement projects. I've
already told you what's going to happen.